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The number of people paying for elective surgery and similar treatments in the UK has risen by 39% from pre-pandemic levels, driving a growth in private healthcare, figures released on Friday showed.

Private healthcare providers admitted 198,000 patients in the October-December quarter of 2021, returning to the level reached during the same three-month period in 2019, according to a statement from the Private Healthcare Information Network.

Of these, 69,000 were self-paid entries, compared to 50,000 in the same period of 2019. For the full year, self-payment increased by 29% compared to 2019.

Meanwhile, the number of patients choosing to receive treatment through insurance in the fourth quarter of last year was 13% lower than 2019 levels, the government-mandated independent organization said.

Wales saw the biggest jump, with 90 per cent more people – 3,575 – paying out of their own pockets. Scotland saw an 84% increase. London was the biggest market with 13,875 self-funded people, up a fifth from the last quarter of 2019.

Self-funded hip and knee replacements more than doubled, while cataract surgeries increased by 56%.

Many chose to go the self-funding route in the UK as NHS waiting lists soared to over 6 minutes, exacerbated by the pandemic. Payment options also helped spread the cost.

The latest figures for May show a record 6.6 million people waiting for NHS treatment, with 2.4 million waiting longer than 18 weeks. The median wait time is significantly higher than in pre-Covid times.

At the end of 2019, healthcare consultancy LaingBuisson valued the UK self-pay market, which includes diagnostic and elective surgeries such as hip and knee replacement, at £1.1 billion. sterling, or around 21% of the private healthcare market.

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