Bupa is 'taking the Mickey' angry patients tell inquiry

Insurer comes under attack for its premium costs and lack of care during probe into private health

Bupa patients have launched a series of astonishing attacks on the medical insurer during a Competition Commission probe into the £5bn private healthcare industry.

The investigation is looking into whether the apparantly overwhelming dominance of just five private-sector hospital operators – General Healthcare Group, Nuffield Health Hospitals, Ramsay Health Care UK, Spire Healthcare and HCA – distorts competition.

Bupa has supported the inquiry, as it believes the cost of private healthcare has been soaring because of a lack of competition, meaning its customers are tempted to switch to the NHS. However, this has not stopped Bupa itself from being the target of withering criticisms from policyholders who have submitted evidence to the investigation.

The hard-hitting attacks received by the commission included: "Bupa is busy moving the goalposts to avoid honouring their terms"; that the company's practices effectively deny "an option of choice of medical consultant"; and that "Bupa now has a policy of only using surgeons who will operate at the least cost to themselves".

One Bupa customer claimed that the firm, which employs 52,000 people around the world, refused to pay the full fee for a preferred, accredited consultant or surgeon for a hip replacement. The critic alleged: "On investigation I find that Bupa although increasing my subscription year on year have found it necessary to reduce the fee paid to consultants which was set in 1993. This therefore requires me to make up the difference adding at least 5 per cent to my subscription."

Another policyholder complained about the lack of assistance given to them following a foot operation. The complaint read: "I am… pleased to say that the infection has gone and my foot is healing really well. However, I am really annoyed and upset with Bupa and would like to formally complain about their attitude to my operation and aftercare treatment."

The commission launched its investigation last year and these are just the latest complaints against Bupa in the evidence from customers. Another policyholder last July wrote: "This year, without any explanation, my monthly premium has jumped 20 per cent from £185 to £225.31. How can this be anything other than 'taking the Mickey'."

In Bupa's annual results presentation for 2012, in which it announced £8.4bn of worldwide revenue, its chief executive Stuart Fletcher admitted that changes the company was making to tackle claims inflation and fees in the UK were "not always popular". However, he insisted that they were necessary so that British customers could get affordable, high-quality private healthcare.

On the inquiry, Mr Fletcher said: "There are no easy solutions, but a lack of competition between hospitals and information on quality of care is pushing up the cost of insurance premiums, which continue to rise at unsustainable levels putting the future of the private healthcare sector at risk."

Bupa told The Independent on Sunday that a recent survey, it commissioned, found that 87 per cent of its members expected the company to pursue value for money on their behalf.

Dr Damian Marmion, the managing director of Bupa Health Funding, said: "There is a low level of complaints about health insurance, compared to other types of insurance. In the second half of 2012, less than 0.2 per cent of Bupa's 2.3 million customers complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

"We are working hard to tackle hospital and consultant costs and we are calling on the Competition Commission to drive changes in the provision of private healthcare to deliver better value for our health insurance customers."

Bupa was not the only insurer criticised in the evidence to the Commission. An Aviva customer was angry about premium increases and a Pru Health policyholder complained that the costs of a routine prostate operation were allegedly not properly outlined to him.

The inquiry, which is chaired by former National Power finance director Roger Witcomb, is due to publish its initial findings in June.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions