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Private patients told to shop around for deals

PATIENTS seeking private operations can make big savings by shopping around, according to the Consumers Association's magazine Which? Way to Health, writes Nicholas Timmins.

But there are also considerable pit-falls to look out for, the magazine warns. A survey covering 30 hospitals, both private and NHS hospitals with pay beds, found that patients could pay twice as much for a hernia operation - pounds 1,470 in the most expensive against pounds 738in the cheapest.

For varicose veins, the charge ranged from pounds 1,544 to pounds 977, while a hip replacement ranged from pounds 8,281 to pounds 5,320.

In each case the hospitals were asked to quote a basic price for an uninsured patient - a situation in which patients can sometimes pick up bargains where hospitals have empty beds and know the patient does not have insurance. But the magazine found that at least five quotes should be obtained for a good comparison, and careful checks are needed on what an 'all- in' price includes.

'One hospital quoted an all-in hospital charge, but their written quote later revealed what they'd neglected to mention that a room would be extra. This was listed separately under 'hotel services' '. Of the hospitals surveyed, the most expensive for a hernia was the BMI Priory in Edgbaston at pounds 1,470, the cheapest the Independent Hospital in Doncaster for pounds 738.