Private health insurers have fielded up to 35% more enquiries than this time last year as consumers react to the crisis in the NHS.

Only market leader BUPA is missing out. It reports no increase in interest.

Its rival, PPP Healthcare, reported a 35% jump in enquiries in the second week of January compared with the same week in 1999.

Norwich Union Healthcare has experienced a 20% increase in calls during a two-week period in January, and WPA estimates it has received a 20% increase in enquiries on its web site.

January is normally a busy month for health insurers, as many premiums come up for renewal, but insurers agree that this month's increase is directly caused by public anxiety over the NHS.