Founder of Living Room Health, Daniel Smith, explains how their clinics and stores are providing a third option for patients, beyond the NHS and private medical insurance, which is accessible, affordable and quick. And why it could serve to indirectly aid the NHS.
The NHS is an absolutely phenomenal service that is under a huge amount of strain – and with an ageing population, increased costs of pharmacology and unprecedented demand in the aftermath of a pandemic, that strain is unlikely to ease off in the foreseeable future.
For any acute conditions, severe illness or trauma, the NHS is unbeatable; you will receive the absolute best care possible, from some of the world’s finest medical professionals, free at the point of delivery. But for less urgent conditions – which, nevertheless, can still be extremely debilitating and unpleasant – patients also have the choice of going down the route of private medical insurance with companies like BUPA, AXA or WPA, for example.
But what many people don’t know is that there’s also a third option called ‘self pay’. Living Room Health is a self pay private provider, a system which is a bit like pay as you go. So you can pay for an instant MRI scan, for example, or you can pay to see a private GP, without having to sign up for private medical insurance. Using self pay doesn’t mean you are opting out of the NHS, just that you are paying for that piece of advice or that service privately. So if you think of the NHS as walking on foot, self pay could be seen as getting a taxi if you need to get where you’re going more quickly.
Imagine there’s a guy called John, and he damages his anterior cruciate ligament playing football on a Saturday morning. John knows that he’s going to be waiting two weeks to see his GP, and then perhaps eight weeks to see a consultant who may or may not then refer him for an MRI scan which would take place up to three months later. With Living Room Health, John has the option to go straight for a private MRI scan on Monday morning and get the report immediately. If we establish that John’s knee would benefit from a steroid injection, for example, that’s also something we can provide straight away, but for which he’d have to wait several weeks on the NHS.
By default, we would also send a full copy of the report and access to the radiology sequences to John’s NHS file. So, crucially, John is not being seen in isolation, disconnected from the NHS – everything is there in his file, to be referred to by any medical professional he sees in the future. Living Room Health places great importance on this continuity of medical records.
We’re not operating in opposition to the NHS; rather we are making possible things that are impossible on the NHS because of the strain it is under. So, for example, there is no way the NHS could offer every person with a knee injury a same-day MRI scan; all of their MRI scanning capacity is geared towards dealing with the most urgent cases first – as it should be. NHS MRI scanners are already highly oversubscribed, so by offering an alternative clinical pathway for MRI scans, Living Room Health is potentially helping the NHS with its unprecedented demand – reducing waiting lists by diverting some of those patients who would otherwise be hanging on for a number of months before receiving a scan.
The NHS is entirely geared towards and focused on providing treatment – whether that be treating illness, treating acute injuries in A&E or having a consultation about any issue you might have; everything is about treatment rather than prevention. Again, this is unavoidable given the pressures and demands placed on the NHS – but by contrast, Living Room Health has the freedom to adopt the philosophy of catching issues early, or even preventing those issues from developing in the first place.
By extension, that speaks to something else that we are able to offer that the NHS is simply unable to: providing peace of mind. It’s just not possible to visit your GP and ask them to do some tests because you’re worried about a particular issue. Yet peace of mind is a tremendously important part of healthcare; we all worry about things, and there’s nothing wrong with ruling something out or checking that you haven’t got something – particularly if you have a history of a certain condition in your family, for example.
We don’t just want to bring efficiency to the patient, but also to the clinical pathway. It’s so much more efficient to have someone come in, speak with a doctor and have a scan – if necessary – all in one visit. If we can provide instant scans, diagnosis, peace of mind and early detection of future issues – all while helping people who would otherwise be making NHS waiting lists even longer – then that is a great way of providing a hugely efficient clinical pathway that has a positive impact not only on patients but on the NHS as well.