But one in five plan to travel this year without insurance – while more than a tenth will fork out up to £1,000 extra on specialist cover, to ensure they are protected
Many NHS waiting list patients are missing out on holidays abroad – as they are struggling to be able to access, or afford, appropriate specialist travel insurance cover for their condition, research has found.
Those with blood pressure or heart issues find it the most difficult to find insurance for overseas travel (12%) – followed by those suffering from musculoskeletal problems such as back, neck, or shoulder pain, hip or knee pain, or arthritis (11%).
But almost all adults (95%) who are currently on a waiting list to be seen by the NHS, or have been in the last three years, have refused to miss out on their trips away. As such, 15% of these have forked out as much as £1,000 extra to make sure they are covered for their travel.
And a survey of 2,034 adults found that a fifth of those waiting for an appointment intend to go ahead with their holidays this year with no travel insurance – rising to a quarter of the 1.6 million people who are waiting to receive a diagnosis.
On top of this, almost 6.5 million patients are currently waiting for consultant-led treatment – with many unable to take out insurance policies due to high costs.
Many insurers keep their premiums low by not covering existing medical conditions, meaning patients on waiting lists with potentially serious conditions will need to take out specialist cover.
But one in 20 currently waiting to be seen by the NHS have found accessing specialist travel insurance so difficult, or so expensive, that they haven’t holidayed abroad because of it.
The research, commissioned by Wellsoon from Practice Plus Group, found adults with hernias (26%) are the most likely to holiday without the correct cover, followed by those with cancer (24%).
There’s also a marked difference between men and women’s attitudes, with men on NHS waiting lists 52% more likely than women to travel without the correct insurance. Meanwhile, women are 41% more likely to go on holiday despite not feeling well.
And almost one in 10 people on NHS waiting lists (8%) have been afraid of needing to pay for healthcare while on holiday.
A spokesman for Practice Plus Group said: “It’s a story we hear regularly from people who have a health issue – they want to be addressed before they go on holiday, but they’re on a waiting list.
“They’re worried about going away when they’re in limbo, potentially needing to seek medical help a long way from home, and not knowing how much it might cost. We see a spike in enquiries for private surgery at this time of year, as people start looking ahead to the summer.”
In April 2021, the Financial Conduct Authority introduced new requirements to help consumers with more serious pre-existing medical conditions (PEMCs) better navigate the travel insurance market.
Firms that sell travel insurance are required to signpost consumers to one of two directories of specialist firms that provide this type of insurance – one of which is the MoneyHelper directory, provided by the Money and Pensions Service.
A spokesman from the Money and Pensions Service, which provides a directory of specialist firms that offer travel insurance for pre-existing conditions, said: “If you have a pre-existing health condition, you must disclose this to your insurer. Otherwise, when you come to make a claim, it could be rejected.
“Depending on your circumstances, you may be asked to complete a medical exam. This will allow insurance providers to tailor your travel insurance policy to cover your needs.
“Taking specialist medical travel insurance will give you peace of mind that your medical condition is covered in the event of a claim. Our MoneyHelper service provides contact details of companies which specialise in this.”
This was Graeme Wakerley’s experience, when he turned to private healthcare after his GP said his hernia wasn’t severe enough to qualify for surgery.
Graeme, 71, a retired haematologist who worked for many years in the NHS, said: “I gave myself a hernia carrying heavy stones for a conservatory project.
“I went to see my GP, who said that I had an inguinal hernia and arranged for a scan to see if it was strangulated. This showed that it wasn’t – and so, because it wasn’t considered dangerous, it meant that I would not be able to get surgery to fix it.”
Graeme started worrying about his travel plans, because there was a risk the hernia would strangulate on holiday and carry a risk of needing emergency treatment.
A keen traveller, Graeme already had a holiday to Ibiza planned with his son and his family – the first holiday since losing his wife of 50 years.
The annual travel insurance he had through his building society account covered him for his previously booked trip to Ibiza, but not a new trip to America.
He said: “There was no way I could travel without declaring it, as the costs for emergency surgery in America should the hernia strangulate would be astronomical.
“I was also worried about my health, as a strangulated hernia can lead to sepsis quite quickly – and I didn’t want to end up seriously ill in another country, even if the costs were covered. I was stuck, really. What was my choice? I was an otherwise fit 70-year-old, wanting to enjoy retirement.
“I decided to pay, and it was about £2,600 for surgery. It was worth every penny to feel better and to have peace of mind, and I’m off to America this year. I have heard of many other people in similar situations.”