Consultant fees 'raise cost of insurance'

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The Independent Online
PRIVATE health insurance premiums, which have jumped in the past few years, could be cut by up to a fifth if consultants' fees are lowered. This is one of the main conclusions of a comprehensive study of private healthcare costs published yesterday.

Consultants' earnings from the private sector, portrayed as excessive when compared with other professions and internationally, stand at six times the rate of National Health Service pay rates. If consultants worked privately full- time they would earn the equivalent of pounds 300,000 a year.

The report, UK Private Specialists' Fees - is the price right?, outlines the options open to Britain's 150 healthcare insurers to force down fees, estimated to account for 40 per cent of private medical care bills.

The share of consultants' aggregate income from private-sector work is estimated to have increased from 13 per cent in 1975 to 31 per cent in 1990.

Yet the report, by the private healthcare consultant William Laing, says that there has been no reduction in the real price of specialists' services. When compared with other professions, the average earnings of pounds 95,000 a year - pounds 50,000 from the NHS and the rest from private practice - puts them well below Queen's Counsel. But when their part- time, private practice earnings are extrapolated to full-time, the figure of pounds 300,000 puts them on a par with the highest earning QCs.

The report, commissioned by Norwich Union Healthcare, suggests fees might be lowered by promoting competition among consultants.

The Government's aim to give better quality healthcare and choice will fail unless patients have more say in the running of the NHS, the National Consumer Council warns today. People must be asked what they want before standards are set, and a new independent inspectorate should be set up to investigate hospitals and GP practices.

The council adds that the Patient's Charter must be strengthened with a health services ombudsman. A new system of 'no- fault' compensation for victims of medical accidents should also be introduced.

Quality Standards in the NHS: the consumer focus; NHS Standards, National Consumer Council, 20 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1 W0DH.

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