Survey suggests emergence of two-tier healthcare system in Scotland, says charity

A charity has said a survey showing almost a third of over-50s questioned had paid or would be willing to pay for medical procedures due to difficulties accessing NHS treatment is evidence of an emerging two-tier system of healthcare in Scotland.

The research involving more than 4,100 people aged over 50 carried out by Age Scotland revealed 16% had already paid for private treatment including dentistry, hip and knee operations, cataract surgery, cardiology treatment, mental health assessments and MRI scans.

The survey also found a further 14% would consider paying for healthcare in the future.

Thirty per cent said they could not afford to pay for private healthcare, however, and another 19% said they did not believe they should have to pay.

Age Scotland found the majority who had paid for private healthcare came from financially better off households but about 6% of those had an annual income of less than £10,000.

Out of those who paid for healthcare, 18% were in their 80s, 17% in their 70s and 15% in their 60s.

The charity believes the findings point to an emerging two-tier health service where those who can afford to pay can access potentially life-saving treatments while those on low incomes face lengthy delays.

The use of private healthcare reflects the growing challenges many older people face accessing healthcare in different parts of the country, representatives said.

The survey also also showed 56% of over-50s found it difficult to get a mental health assessment on the NHS, 38% found it hard to get a physiotherapy appointment and 38% had trouble getting an audiology appointment.

Age Scotland’s interim chief executive, Katherine Crawford, said: “We’ve long been aware of the growing challenges many older people face accessing healthcare and it’s extremely worrying to see increasing evidence of the two-tier healthcare system that has emerged in recent years.

“We appreciate the NHS is working tirelessly, and to capacity, to deal with lengthy backlog. It’s vital that we see continuing efforts to cut waiting lists, as well as investment in healthcare for those in later life which includes swift access to often life-changing treatment such as orthopaedic and eye care procedures.

“The reality is that most of these procedures are routine and cost-effective but, without them, the person’s needs become far greater and much more expensive to address.

“The earlier these procedures are carried out, the better the longer-term outcome for patients and the less overall spend the NHS will incur as a result.

“The situation is becoming increasingly desperate for those awaiting life-changing operations and treatment and there is no parity in a system which sees those who can afford to pay to expedite treatment while others have no option but to remain on seemingly endless waiting lists.”

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