Poll finds majority of UK adults would use private healthcare if a relative was stuck on a waiting list for surgery

45% of UK adults have said they would turn to private healthcare to help a relative awaiting surgery, with only 11% ruling it out categorically.
Patient waiting to see a doctor in hospital
Written by
Chris Steele
Published on
June 24, 2024
Updated on
June 24, 2024

During the first leaders' debate on 4 June, Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer were asked a direct question about whether they would use private healthcare if a relative was stuck on an NHS waiting list. They both answered emphatically, with Sunak quickly replying "Yes" and Starmer following him with "No."

Following the debate, consumer information website myTribe Insurance wanted to understand how the public felt about the same topic and commissioned a YouGov survey to find out.

Respondents were asked:

“Imagine you had a relative who was waiting for surgery, do you think you would or would not pay for private healthcare?”

Key findings:

  • 45% of UK adults would turn to private healthcare if a relative was stuck waiting for surgery (14% definitely would, 31% probably would).
  • Only 11% ruled it out completely, saying they “definitely would not”, with another 26% saying they probably would not.
  • The remaining 18% of UK adults didn’t know whether they would or wouldn’t use private healthcare.
  • Those who said they wouldn’t use private healthcare cited affordability as the primary reason, with more than four out of five (84%) saying they couldn’t meet the cost.
  • One in five (22%) of those who said they wouldn't use private healthcare said it's because they disagree with it generally.
  • Those under 49 were more likely to disagree with the principle of private healthcare, with 25% of 18–49-year-olds objecting to it, compared to 19% of over-50s.
  • Men were nearly twice as likely to disagree with the principle of private healthcare than women (29% vs. 15%).

Responding to the primary question of the poll, most UK adults said that if push came to shove, they would turn to the private sector to help a relative stuck on an NHS waiting list for surgery, with 45% agreeing with Rishi Sunak. Conversely, 37% of UK adults said they wouldn't, albeit only 11% ruled it out categorically (the remaining 26% responding "probably would not").

The poll found differences in opinion based on where people live in the UK, with those in England more likely to use private healthcare than those in Wales and Scotland.

Would you use private healthcare by region
Country Total Would Total Would Not Don’t know
England 46% 37% 18%
Scotland 41% 42% 17%
Wales 34% 50% 15%
Northern Ireland (omitted due to small sample) (omitted due to small sample) (omitted due to small sample)

What’s stopping the public from using private healthcare?

Those who said they probably or definitely wouldn't use private healthcare were asked why not, choosing two reasons each from a list of nine.

Not having the money for private healthcare was cited most frequently, with 84% saying that affordability was a barrier for them. Indeed, the cost of private healthcare was the main reason people said they wouldn’t, regardless of age, gender, social grade, general election vote in 2019, country or region of the UK.

The second most selected reason for not foreseeing the use of private healthcare was disagreeing with the principle generally, with 22% saying that was the case. Interestingly, men were nearly twice as likely to disagree with the principle of private healthcare compared to women (29% vs. 15%). Young adults (18-49) were more likely to disagree with the principle of private healthcare, with 25% objecting to it, compared to 19% of those over 50.

Just 7% of people said that they felt care levels were better in the NHS, although that was still the third most selected reason. An additional 6% said they wouldn't know how to access private healthcare.

For further information and data tables, please visit the original release on the myTribe website:

Chris Steele, Founder and Editor of myTribe said:

Contrary to what Sir Keir Starmer said during the first leaders’ debate, this poll shows that most UK adults would turn to private healthcare to help a relative waiting for surgery. It also shows that cost is the major obstacle for most, suggesting that if private healthcare was more affordable and accessible, fewer people would say no.

Unfortunately, inflation and increased demand have affected the cost of private medical treatment and insurance, making them even less affordable and out of the reach of many.

The surprising result of this poll is that the general disagreement about the principle of using private healthcare is relatively low, at around 1 in 5 (22%). This contrasts with what we often see in comments on social media, where posts can rack up hundreds of comments from those who are vocally anti-private healthcare. Perhaps the public is starting to see that the private sector has a role to play in overcoming the current crisis in healthcare.


Further information

Chris Steele

Founder and Editor of myTribe

07563 964412


About myTribe

myTribe is a consumer information website that helps people better understand their options when looking at “going private” for their healthcare needs. Started in 2019 by Chris Steele, the website’s importance and value have grown due to the challenges facing the NHS and the increasing number of people looking for alternative options. myTribe regularly commissions independent research into the topics that matter to people to arm them with the information they need to make informed decisions.

Methodology and terms

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,317 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th - 17th June 2024.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all  UK adults (aged 18+).