The experience of other countries where healthcare is delivered via a mix of public and private systems is that not only do patients enjoy better outcomes and have more choice but the systems are also fair for all.
We support a fair and comprehensive healthcare system for everyone. We agree that money alone, whether from taxes or other means, will not improve the healthcare system in this country. More fundamental reform is required. Productivity, innovation and organisational efficiency all need to improve. Without these changes, people will not get timely access to the healthcare they need and want.
Rapid access to diagnosis and speedy treatment of an illness or disease continue to be important reasons for choosing private medical insurance.
The NHS is focused on red-ucing waiting lists and has made improvements in some areas but there is still a long way to go. Today, there are 973,000 people waiting for operations, around 50,000 of whom have been waiting for longer than six months.
What that means in today's terms is that if you have seen a GP this month, you will get your first outpatient consultation in July and be told that you may not be operated on until October.
If you are in pain or worried about your condition or the condition of a loved one, that is a long time to wait and what really matters to people is what they experience as an individual.
Even with the significant Government investment in the NHS at present, which is des-igned to enable the service to meet its targets by 2008, there will still be a six-month wait for treatment for some people – a longer wait than in countries that operate mixed healthcare systems such as France and Germany.
We believe that learning from other healthcare systems around the world, particularly those where more private money goes into healthcare alongside the state system, is the way forward for the UK.
The experience in other countries such as Ireland, Australia and Spain is that healthcare delivered in a mixed economy provides better outcomes for patients, offers them more choice and is still fair for all.
If governments give tax incentives rather than disincentives such as the three levels of UK taxation on private medical insurance, a greater burden could be lifted from national health services.
One way of increasing private funding of healthcare in the UK is to encourage more of Britain's employers to provide it for their staff. This would create revenue for the Exchequer by improving product-ivity and allow more funds to be put into the NHS.
Employers benefit through increased staff morale, less sickness absence (private medical insurance saved 2.5 million working days last year) and lower staff turnover.
The private sector makes a net £1.7bn contribution to the economy. Without the private sector, waiting lists would be a third longer than they are today. It offers people real choices about when, where and who treats them, speedy access to diagnosis and treatment, a consultant to look after them all the way through their treatment and a speedier return to normality.
Perceptions of an improving NHS may appear to make promoting private medical insurance more challenging. Our view is quite the opposite. It is important and timely for all of us and our customers to remind ourselves of what PMI offers – real choice and real benefits.
Fiona Harris is actuarial and risk manager at Bupa