A report by UK think-tank Civitas has called for reinforcement from the private sector to help ensure the same level of healthcare for all as, it claims, the middle class is currently getting a better deal than the poor.

According to the report Quite like heaven?, authored by Nick Seddon, inequalities in healthcare are rife across the nation, with the middle classes getting more out of the National Health Service than those in lower classes, largely because they are better at expressing their needs.

“They demand and get priority treatment,” Seddon said. “The ability to get the most out of the NHS becomes a matter of survival of the fittest - or richest and most educated - yet this was surely what the NHS was designed to avoid.”

Highlighting the current postcode lottery of healthcare, the report cites research by York University, which showed that people in deprived areas are less likely to receive hip replacements than their more affluent peers.

Furthermore, it asserts, “where you live - and often where you can afford to live - will affect the quality of care that you as a patient are entitled to receive,” and points to other research by Julian Le Grand, which found the lowest socioeconomic groups are 30% less likely to receive a coronary-artery bypass graft or angiography than those in higher classes.

Growing divide
“Not only are lower socio-economic groups less healthy, but the relative gap is growing”, the report warns, and added: “It is becoming increasingly clear that the NHS often does little to combat inequality, and may even make it worse, by providing an inequitable service.”

To help turn the situation around, Seddon advocates greater use of the private sector, which, he claims, will boost healthcare standards and foster a more competitive environment. Furthermore, he suggests learning from health systems of other nations in the European Union to take the Service forward.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health gave the go-ahead to three new privately-run schemes with a combined value of around £200 million, expected to provide 19,600 diagnostic scans and 123,000 kidney dialysis sessions per year. However, six schemes were cancelled on the basis that they would not provide value for money, sparking accusations that the government is cutting back on its plans for private sector involvement in the NHS, although this was refuted.

The much-debated future of the NHS is currently being considered by Health Minister Sir Ara Darzi, who is due to publish a comprehensive review by June next year.