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JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Sick of NHS delays? Find best private cover


JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Sick of NHS delays? Find best private cover

With more strikes coming down the road, backlogs in treatment and diagnosis will continue to frustrate those relying on the National Health Service for their medical well-being. A parlous state of affairs.

Given this chaotic backdrop, it is understandable that more people are reducing their dependency on the NHS by purchasing private medical insurance (PMI) that ensures swift access to treatment if the need arises.

A dear friend, now in her 60s, has just bought cover for this very reason. Although her BUPA policy is not cheap, at £124 a month, excludes an existing medical condition (asthma), and includes a hefty excess if she were to make a claim, it has given her peace of mind. She now knows that if she needs medical treatment, she can obtain it quickly.

In light of this surge in PMI demand, consumer champion website Fairer Finance will today launch ratings of the plans offered by providers.

These are not based on price, but on what existing customers think about the policies they have bought (good or bad); how transparent the plans are (for example, in explaining the benefits they offer, how pre-existing conditions are handled and the size of excesses); and the percentage of customer complaints that get upheld by the Ombudsman.

Review: In light of this surge in PMI demand, consumer champion website Fairer Finance is launching ratings of the plans offered by providers

Of the 11 brands it has scrutinised, Freedom Health Insurance and Aviva come out on top, followed by Bupa, Axa and Vitality.

James Daley, founder of Fairer Finance, says that customer satisfaction with PMI usually falls as people get older and premiums jack up. Yet he believes increased demand for PMI is prompting some insurers to design plans that are more affordable.

Before you go down the PMI route, do check out Fairer Finance’s ratings. Its advice could make the difference between buying a good or bad policy.

The analysis can be accessed via It also provides ratings for other financial products such as credit cards and pet insurance.

Loyalty should be rewarded 

Nationwide’s decision to pay one-off £100 windfalls to a minority of its 16 million customers is a bold move – and welcome. Other financially robust building societies should take a leaf out of its book and follow suit.

Yet I imagine the £340 million ‘fairer share’ payment scheme will not go down well in every household where someone has a Nationwide savings account. This is because of the way the society has drawn up the rules determining who gets the windfall – and who doesn’t. In broad terms, you get the windfall if you have a Nationwide current account plus either a mortgage or a savings account.

This means that if you have saved loyally with the society for years, but don’t have one of its current accounts, tough. You miss out on the £100.

Even if you have the all-important current account, you will miss out if your total savings with Nationwide ducked below £100 throughout March this year – very possible, given the current squeeze on household finances.

I suspect that of those 12 million-plus customers who are excluded from the windfall, many will be loyal, elderly savers who have never contemplated switching their bank account to Nationwide.

Is that fair? I don’t think so. Loyalty should be rewarded.

If you are a Nationwide customer who has lost out, I would love to hear from you. Drop me an email at [email protected]. Alternatively, write to me at 9 Derry Street, Kensington, London W8 5HY.

Sadly, I was right about bank cull…

My comments seven days ago on the state of the remaining bank branches in my home town of Wokingham in Berkshire proved rather apposite.

As Andy Davidson, from nearby Binfield, kindly informed me over the weekend, a closure notice has now gone up in the window of the Barclays’ branch.

It means that when it closes in mid-August, it will leave the town with a Nationwide outlet – plus dilapidated branches belonging to HSBC and Lloyds.

My prediction – last week – that Nationwide will be the last bank standing in Wokingham within a year looks like it could come true quicker than I thought.

In Barclays’ defence, the bank will be linking up with a local business to use its premises when customers need a face-to-face meeting to discuss key financial issues (it’s what Barclays already does in nearby Ascot).

On the basis that Barclays has yet to find suitable premises, may I suggest it looks into renting a couple of pods belonging to wine bar RYND. I am sure customers would find it quite groovy discussing banking issues while sitting in a private Perspex bubble situated on the town’s market square.

Maybe Barclays could enhance the experience by providing customers with a free non-alcoholic cocktail – Summer Spritz would be rather seasonal. It’s the least customers deserve after having their branch axed.

One final thought on Barclays’ closure. Wokingham residents Ian and Gloria Stromdale – satisfied customers of Nationwide – told me they got into a conversation a few days ago with a 79-year-old Barclays’ customer while taking a stroll in Cantley Park, a glorious spot of greenery among all the town’s frantic house-building.

The septuagenarian told them she had been with Barclays since school – and had no intention of switching away.

As Ian told me: ‘There is much to be said for loyalty, but as far as banks are concerned, loyalty is a one-way street – and it does not emanate from them.’ Absolutely.

Sweat, tears and a race that shows mutuals really care

This time last week, I was trudging up Yorkshire hills in order to complete the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon. 

I got there (to the finish line, that is) in the end, but it was touch and go. Physically painful, yes, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world – especially that magic moment when rugby league legend Kevin Sinfield lifted former teammate Rob out of his wheelchair and carried him over the finish line. I can’t deny I shed a tear or three.

Close bond: Kevin Sinfield lifts former teammate Rob Burrow out of his wheelchair and carries him over the finish line

Close bond: Kevin Sinfield lifts former teammate Rob Burrow out of his wheelchair and carries him over the finish line

What the race demonstrated is that such events bring out the best in people, with the majority of runners raising money for charity Motor Neurone Disease Association and the building of a new MND care unit in the City (Rob, sadly, is racked by the illness).

Wearing my Personal Finance running shoes for a moment, it was lovely to see waves of runners from local building society Leeds participating in the event. Leeds has been the only society to have its headquarters in the City since rival Leeds Permanent was vacuumed up by Halifax 28 years ago – and it is thriving, judging by its smart offices which I walked past on Saturday night.

On a related note, it is sad to learn of the recent passing of former Leeds Permanent boss Mike Blackburn. Mike, a larger-than-life figure, was born to lead and when Leeds Permanent got consumed by Halifax, he became boss of the combined building society that then demutualised, generating windfalls for customers. Yet it was Blackburn’s signing- up of actor George Cole to front adverts for Leeds’s Liquid Gold account that was probably his biggest business triumph.

Cole recreated his role as Arthur Daley in TV’s Minder to encourage savers to ‘laugh all the way to the Leeds’. They did in droves.

Building societies don’t make them like Mr Blackburn any more. Larger than life – like Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield.

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