1 in 5 on NHS waiting lists risk holiday healthcare fees

New research shows 1 in 5 people on NHS waiting lists plan to holiday abroad this year without travel insurance, risking falling ill overseas and incurring healthcare fees while on holiday.

NHS waiting lists at a glance

With the number of people waiting for consultant-led treatment now totalling more than 6.4 million people, and 1.6 million waiting for a diagnosis, the number likely to go away this summer either with no appropriate cover in place, or who are paying extra because of their health, could be more than a million people*.

Of those who do ensure they have cover, it comes at a cost, with 15% of people who are on a waiting list or who have been in the last three years having paid up to £1000 extra to cover their pre-existing condition.

Many insurers keep their premiums low by not covering existing medical conditions, meaning people on waiting lists with potentially serious conditions will need to take out specialist cover. Those waiting for a condition to be diagnosed will find it particularly difficult to find appropriate travel insurance – and 1 in 4 in this situation plan to holiday this year without the correct cover.

“15% of people on the NHS waiting list have paid up to £1,000 extra to cover their pre-existing condition.”

5 per cent of people currently waiting to be seen by the NHS have found accessing specialist travel insurance so difficult, or so expensive, they haven’t holidayed abroad because of it.

The YouGov poll, commissioned by Wellsoon from Practice Plus Group, showed that of the conditions listed, including cancer, diabetes, eye conditions and respiratory problems, people with hernias are the most likely to holiday without the correct cover, at 26 per cent. This was followed by people with cancer, at 24 per cent. The health concerns people have found the most difficult to find insurance for are heart or blood pressure issues, at 12 per cent of people, closely followed by musculoskeletal issues including arthritis, hip or knee pain, back pain, neck or shoulder pain at 11 per cent.

The research also found a marked difference between men and women’s attitudes, with men on NHS waiting lists 52 per cent more likely than women to travel without the correct insurance, while women are 41 per cent more likely to go on holiday despite not feeling well.

8 per cent of people on NHS waiting lists have been afraid of needing to pay for healthcare while on holiday.

This was Graeme Wakerley’s experience, who turned to private healthcare when his GP said his debilitating hernia wasn’t severe enough to qualify for surgery.

“I had annual travel insurance so I called them and explained I had a hernia and asked if I’d be covered for a trip to America. They said that as the hernia arose after I’d booked the Ibiza holiday, I would not be covered. There was no way I could travel without declaring it as the costs for emergency surgery in America would be astronomical…what choice did I have?”

Graeme Wakerley, hernia patient at Practice Plus Group

In April 2021, the Financial Conduct Authority introduced new requirements to help consumers with more serious pre-existing medical conditions (PEMCs) better navigate the travel insurance market. Firms that sell travel insurance are required to signpost consumers to one of two directories of specialist firms that provide this type of insurance- one of which is the MoneyHelper directory, provided by the Money and Pensions Service.

A spokesperson from the Money and Pensions Service said:

“If you have a pre-existing health condition you must disclose this to your insurer. Otherwise, when you come to make a claim, it could be rejected.

“Depending on your circumstances, you may be asked to complete a medical exam. This will allow insurance providers to tailor your travel insurance policy to cover your needs.

“Taking specialist medical travel insurance will give you peace of mind that your medical condition is covered in the event of a claim. Our MoneyHelper service provides contact details of companies who specialise in this.”

*[16% of 6.4million waiters have paid extra = 1.024m, plus potentially 25% of 1.6m people waiting for diagnostics = 400,000, though some aren’t waiting long so it wouldn’t be accurate to include them all]