More NHS patients than ever are having surgery in private hospitals, new figures show, while targets including cancer treatment and outpatient waiting times are also being missed.

With annual winter pressures mounting, the NHS is struggling to cope with demand for services, with hospital admissions exacerbated by a shortage of GPs and a range of social care issues.

Figures obtained by the Guardian show that the number of NHS patients having surgery in private hospitals has nearly trebled in the last decade, rising from just under 215,000 in 2009 to nearly 614,000 last year.

A&E waiting times have reached the worst levels on record, with less than 75% of patients being treated and discharged, admitted or transferred within four hours against a target of 95%, while cancer targets to see patients treated within 62 days of an urgent GP referral have not been met for five years.

In Scotland, the proportion of outpatients not receiving treatment within the 12-week target rose slightly between October 2018 and October 2019, while in September the average wait time to see a GP passed the two-week mark, fuelled partly by a rise in doctors leaving the profession.

In addition, the Health Foundation has estimated that more than 14m people have more than two long-term conditions - such as diabetes and depression - leading to a wider range of health and social care implications. And with hospitals now braced for seasonal pressures, such as outbreaks of flu and admissions due to falls, the headlines aren’t likely to improve soon.

These statistics go some way to explaining the rise in popularity of telemedicine and ‘virtual’ GPs, especially among younger patients, with almost half of 18-24 year olds preferring a digital appointment than visiting a traditional surgery.

Around two fifths - 19 out of 49 - of the health insurance products on our panel include a virtual GP service, while some of our partners also offer smart health apps with benefits including mental health support, access to prescriptions and even a referral to the right specialist. Telemedicine won’t solve the NHS crisis but it does go some way to alleviating waiting times and giving patients with less complex needs access to advice and treatment when they need it.

Having the right private medical insurance can prove invaluable when you’re unwell or have an accident, with benefits including no waiting lists, access to a specialist of your choice and treatment at a hospital or centre close to home or work. To find the right cover for your circumstances, compare private medical insurance quotes online or speak to our team on 0800 862 0373.

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