AXA’s Fergus Craig says private healthcare can work with the NHS to deliver high performance.

You would have had to try hard to miss the NHS’ 60th anniversary celebrations last week. It is of course an important milestone and also provides a good opportunity to reflect on some of the broader challenges facing healthcare funders and providers in Britain today.

We support a comprehensive NHS, funded largely by tax, and free at the point of delivery. Private healthcare and employee health support services complement those of the NHS.

While the growing demand for healthcare piles inexorable pressure on the NHS, the independent healthcare sector is well placed to play an even bigger part in helping to meet the nation’s healthcare needs

To put this into context, around 7.2 million people are currently covered by privately-funded healthcare schemes – an increase of over 700,000 since 1997. And the trend looks set to continue. Professor Carol Black, national director for health and work at the NHS, in her strategy for improving the health of the working age population, has called on employers to do more to safeguard employees’ health and wellbeing. And, I won’t be surprised if we soon see NHS patients being allowed to top up their NHS treatment with privately funded drugs (and perhaps in time other treatments too). We are leading the way in the development of workplace health and wellbeing services.

Our industry has raised its game and today, rather than simply paying employees’ medical bills, we’re playing a bigger, more strategic role in helping employers to devise and introduce strategies to manage health at work.

The independent sector also benefits the NHS directly by lowering demand for its services – to the tune of £2.5bn last year. People have always valued health and wellbeing highly and will continue to make discretionary expenditure to secure it. We’re here to help and, as we move forward, we should stop arguing about a two-tier system and think about how to achieve a high performing, balanced healthcare system that draws on the best of the NHS and the independent healthcare sector, working together.