Aviva added more than 100,000 private health insurance customers in a year as the NHS struggled

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Insurance firm Aviva has reported a 25% increase in the number of new health insurance policies taken out in the first three months of this year – as the NHS lists were lengthened and staff went on strike.

The Aviva boss was explicit in linking the rise in new policies to failings in the public health service.

The increase is “a consequence of what we’re seeing in the NHS and customers basically say that if they can take control over their health situation then they will,” chief executive Amanda Blanc said.

More individuals and companies are “attracted to the benefits of private cover”, said Aviva’s first quarter trading update.

There were an extra 123,000 health insurance customers over the year, Ms Blanc added.

Health insurance coverage was comparatively low in Britain, according to a survey published in April last year by Halifax. Just 6% had personal health cover, the survey suggested.

But in the past year, the NHS has been hit by staff shortages, record waiting lists and strikes by nurses, junior doctors and ambulance drivers over pay and conditions.

Aviva operates in the UK, Ireland and Canada. It is one of Britain’s biggest insurance companies and is listed on the London Stock Exchange.

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Company performance was mixed over the three months. General insurance premiums rose 11% to £2.4bn but Aviva’s wealth business slowed.

The pensions business was benefitted by higher wages, which contributed in greater contributions, the trading update said. Pension income was also up 25% due to 134 new pension schemes.

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“We have delivered an encouraging start to 2023 and continue to build clear trading momentum. New business volumes are good, despite persistent economic uncertainty, and we delivered another quarter of strong growth across our diversified business,” Ms Blanc said.

Aviva shares were down 3% following the update.