Workers targeted by loan companies to pay for private medical treatment


‘Buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) deals, along with other personal loan arrangements, are being aggressively pushed out for NHS patients as part of the drive to push privatisation throughout the health service.

These are designed to get people to take out loans to cover the cost of basic healthcare with repayments spread over months or years.

In return, the patient is offered rapid access to treatments and tests such as MRI scans, X-rays and routine surgery by-passing NHS waiting lists.

A report in The Observer newspaper found that companies offering these loans appear to be targeting those ‘desperate for help and low on cash’, promising ‘quick and easy approval with immediate access to funding’.

Diagnostics company MRI Plus recently ran a newspaper advertisement pushing BNPL plans for MRI scans which said: ‘Why wait in pain? Slash your waiting time for treatment on the NHS … Book now and pay later with Klarna.’

Klarna is the on-line Swedish fin-tech company that offers patients 30 days delay in making repayments or splitting the loan into three interest free installments. Chrysalis Finance offers ‘quick and easy’ personal medical loans ranging between £1,000 up to £25,000 with its social media page promising a ‘simple’ process with loans approved ‘within seconds’.

The Observer reports that other posts by the company target those people who cannot afford to pay for treatment upfront saying: ‘Have you been waiting for an operation for a long time but do not have the funds lying around?’ inviting those without the thousands of pound demanded by the private sector ‘lying around’ to take out a BNPL alternative.

This lets people spread out payments for services like hip replacements over a longer period of up to five years. This incurs yearly interest rates of 14.9% with zero interest rates charged for shorter payment plans.

As The Observer notes, all the companies involved in selling the promise of easy access to loans for private medical treatment are quick to stress that these loans and BNPL plans are ‘ethical, interest free options that help people manage their finances’.

But health experts are warning that with NHS backlogs at record levels people are being forced to use these deals out of desperation.

David Rowland, director of the Centre for Health and Public Interest thinktank, said: ‘Policy-makers need to be aware of how the underfunding of the NHS is pushing unsustainable healthcare costs back onto individuals, potentially increasing their indebtedness. It’s a slippery slope.’

The claim by these companies that they are merely helping people manage their finances and not driving them into unaffordable debt, is dealt a blow by research carried out by the debt charity Stepchange.

They found that nearly half the people with BNPL loans had trouble with household bills and credit repayments. 17% of those with these loans, widely used across the retail sector, met the charity’s definition of being in severe debt difficulties. Failure to repay any interest free loan in time results in a quick visit from the bailiffs.

The Tories have unveiled plans for the biggest expansion of the health privateers at the expense of the NHS which has been systematically underfunded and starved of cash, in order to set it up for full privatisation.

Now it is clear, that the slippery slope Rowland warns of is the complete destruction of the NHS as a fully funded, free at the point of delivery health service, replacing it with a privatised system where workers and the middle class are forced into debt to pay for treatment or left to suffer in silence.

The Labour Party is in full support of the Tory onslaught on the NHS. Their only complaint is that the Tories have not acted fast enough in rushing through privatisation.

The working class will not allow the greatest gain of a free NHS to be smashed by a collapsing Tory government, aided by a treacherous right wing Labour Party.

The only way to defend the NHS, is to force the TUC at its annual congress in September to immediately organise the strength of the working class in a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers government and socialism.

Only a socialist planned economy can provide a fully-funded NHS to meet the health needs of all.