Insurers blacklist medical specialists

Top hernia centre is one of many de-listed.
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Despite Tony Blair's promise that by 2005 the longest anyone will have to wait for a medical operation will be six months, an increasing number of us are looking for an alternative to the NHS.

Despite Tony Blair's promise that by 2005 the longest anyone will have to wait for a medical operation will be six months, an increasing number of us are looking for an alternative to the NHS.

No matter how deeply we believe in a free health service for all, we know that, for a long time, Britain's has been underfunded and unreliable. It's no surprise that those who can afford it are opting for private medical insurance (PMI).

However, even with private medical cover there is no guarantee of getting the best available treatment. Insurer PPP, for example, is de-listing specialist treatment centres in favour of a network of private healthcare facilities. PPP invites hospitals to tender for business, encouraging the lowest prices for surgery.

Even though the surgery is cheaper, premiums are not coming down accodingly - far from it. In fact, PPP charges some of the highest premiums for cover compared with its main rivals, Bupa, Norwich Union and Legal & General (see table).

Since Axa, the French insurance giant, bought PPP last year, the Heart Hospital, in west London, and St John's and St Elizabeth's Hospital, north London, have been de-listed. The latest to join the blacklist is the British Hernia Centre. PPP policy holders' renewal forms will no longer include the centredespite it being the world's leading place for hernia treatment.

Why should we care about hernias, famous for keeping footballers off the pitch for weeks at a time? For one thing, soccer players are not alone; one in 10 of us will suffer from a hernia at some point, so it is no wonder that it is the most common operation in the world.

Dudley Rogg, clinic director of the British Hernia Centre, says specialist hernia treatment is essential. "It's daft that people with private health cover cannot go to specialist hospitals. Our surgeons are specialised in treating hernias."

But PPP defends its decision. "By forming closer, long-term relationships with a smaller number of healthcare providers, we help to ensure their facilities are utilised more efficiently and cost effectively, which benefits our customers," says PPP's Ben Faulkner.

Last year, PPP and Bupa were cleared of the charge of being uncompetitive by the Office of Fair Trading. PPP does allow policy holders to opt out of the network. Bupa and Norwich Union offer customers a choice of network or non-network products.

Bupa covers treatment at the British Hernia Centre and Heart Hospital. "Our non-network product gives access to just over 400 hospitals in the UK," says Ann-Marie Cooklin at Bupa. "With a network product you get access to 180 hospitals."

The advantage of network policies from Bupa and Norwich Union is that lower prices are passed on to policyholders ascheaper premiums. A Bupa network deal works out eight per cent cheaper than an all-inclusive policy.

The Association of British Insurers produces a free guide to PMI. Tel 020 7600 3333, or www.abi.org.uk .

Contacts: Bupa, 0800 289577; Norwich Union, 0800 142142; PPP, 0800 335555.

Comments