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Private health insurance

Get treated faster with deals on medical cover

  • Avoid lengthy GP and hospital waiting lists and access treatment faster
  • Enjoy private rooms and top-quality healthcare from leading UK consultants

  • Enjoy customer rewards, on us*

Compare health insurance from our 14 health insurance providers[1], including:

[1] Correct as of March 2024.

What is health insurance?

Health insurance gives you access to private healthcare. It’s a contract between you and an insurance provider in which they agree to foot the bill for certain healthcare costs in return for payment of a monthly or annual premium.

Private medical insurance works alongside the NHS, but you can often benefit from shorter waiting times for appointments and treatment.

It typically covers the cost of private medical care for health conditions that develop after your policy starts. Some policies give you fast-track diagnostics and will cover outpatient treatments or even treatments that aren’t available on the NHS.

Different types of policies offer different levels of cover, and you can also choose who you want your health insurance plan to cover – whether that’s just you, you and your partner or your family. Terms and prices can vary considerably, so it’s essential you fully understand what you’re signing up to.

What does private health insurance cover? 

What your private medical insurance covers depends on the type of policy and level of cover you take out. The policies offered can vary substantially between different providers, and they often include the option to tailor a plan to your needs by adding on or excluding various elements.

A standard policy could cover:

  • Inpatient treatment (such as diagnostic tests and surgery)
  • Outpatient care (for example, follow-up tests and scans)
  • Physiotherapy
  • Critical illness (this pays out if you’re diagnosed with a serious illness and could include some cancers).

A comprehensive policy could also cover:

  • Outpatient consultations, tests and scans before treatment
  • Outpatient mental health care
  • Cover for therapies like osteopathy and chiropractic treatments
  • Virtual or in-person appointments with a private GP.

Policies often exclude:

  • Pre-existing conditions

  • Pregnancy and childbirth

  • Chronic conditions (for example, asthma and diabetes)

  • Injuries resulting from high-risk activities

  • Emergency treatment

  • Cosmetic surgery.

Each health insurance provider’s cover is different, so always check the terms and conditions carefully before signing up to understand what’s covered and what’s excluded.

What optional extras can you get with private health insurance?

In some cases, you can tailor your private medical insurance policy to your needs and budget. You could include add-ons like:

  • Dental care
  • Eye care
  • Hearing care
  • Additional physiotherapy
  • Complementary medicine
  • Comprehensive mental health cover.

What are the benefits of private medical insurance? 

Private medical insurance could give you:  

Reduced waiting times

Meaning faster access to consultants, tests, therapies and treatment.

Specialist referrals 

Be treated by experts in their field and get an earlier diagnosis or a valuable second opinion.

Choice of surgeon and hospital

You can usually choose a specialist and hospital that suits you. However, your insurance provider may pick one for you.

Private rooms

Enjoy a more comfortable stay, with facilities like TVs and en-suite rooms.

Recovery and aftercare

Get fast access to treatments, such as physiotherapy.

Specialist treatments 

Possible access to treatments and drugs not available on the NHS. 

Did you know?

In September 2023, there were a record 7.8 million people waiting for hospital treatment on the NHS. Although there’s a target in place to treat patients within 18 weeks, this has not been met since 2016. And worryingly, fewer than 60% of cancer patients were able to access treatment within the 62-day target.

The potential disadvantages of private healthcare

  • It can be expensive – especially as you get older.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions aren’t usually covered – and if you do want cover for one, it’ll push up the price.
  • If you fail to keep up with your monthly payments, your policy will be cancelled and you won’t be able to claim any money back.
  • You normally have to pay an excess to access treatment.
  • Chronic illnesses aren’t usually covered, and neither are incurable illnesses, including some cancers.
  • There’s no guarantee you’ll be approved for a particular treatment or drug or that you’ll be able to see a certain specialist.
  • Some policies have an approved list of hospitals and consultants, which could mean you might have to travel for treatment.
  • Injuries from high-risk activities (like extreme sports) aren’t usually covered.
  • Private healthcare is not necessarily better than the care you would receive on the NHS and some argue that the push towards private healthcare is having a negative effect on NHS staffing levels and resources.

What types of health insurance plans are available?

Getting the right health insurance for your needs is half the battle. First, decide why you want it and who you want it to cover.

  • Individual health insurance – get fast access to medical care if you become ill or injured, avoiding NHS waiting times. You’ll probably get more choice of consultant and hospital too. 
  • Joint health insurance – covers both you and your partner. This is often cheaper than taking out two separate policies, but not always. 
  • Family health insurance – covering your whole family under the same policy is likely to be cheaper than buying each family member individual cover. 
  • Child health insurance – enjoy the reassurance that if your child becomes ill, they’ll receive fast treatment in private hospitals and clinics. 
  • Self-employed health insurance – because you can choose when and where you’re treated, private healthcare can be invaluable if you’re self-employed or have inflexible working hours.

Before you start comparing policies, check if you already have private health insurance through your employer.  

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How does private health insurance work? 

Private health insurance works in much the same way as any other insurance. You pay a monthly or annual fee, known as a premium.

You’ll also agree an excess, which is your contribution to any claim. In return, you can claim for the cost of private medical care, rather than paying for it yourself or accessing NHS treatment.

For example, if you have agreed an excess of £250 and you have a treatment that costs £2,000, you’ll pay the first £250 and your insurance provider will cover the rest.

Often, you’ll only have to pay your health insurance excess once per year, on your first eligible claim. But it depends on your policy, so read the fine print.

Typically, you can set an excess you’re comfortable with. Choosing a higher excess means you’ll foot more of the bill if you do need to claim, but your monthly premiums should be lower – and vice versa.

How to get started with private healthcare

If you have a policy and develop a health problem, see your GP as normal but tell them you have private cover and ask what options are available. They can recommend a specialist or private treatment centre – or you may want to choose your own.

You might need to get treatment from your provider’s list of approved healthcare providers. If you’re not sure who to see or where to go for treatment, ask your GP for an open referral letter.

Some comprehensive private medical insurance policies give you access to a private GP to begin diagnosis and make any necessary referrals or provide a prescription as part of your claim.

How to make a claim

Start by contacting your insurance provider, who’ll tell you what to do. If your NHS GP has given you a referral letter, you’ll need to share this with your insurance provider.

You might need to get treatment from your provider’s list of approved healthcare providers. If you’re not sure who to see or where to go for treatment, ask your GP for an open referral letter.

They’ll make you aware of any limits on your policy and can help you find the right consultants, if you’re not sure where to go.

How much is private health insurance?

The cost of private health insurance in the UK will depend on a number of factors, including: 

  • Your age – as you get older you’re more likely to develop health issues, which will be reflected in higher premiums.
  • Your postcode – you may have to pay more for your private health insurance if you live in London or other major cities, where hospitals and private treatment centres tend to be more expensive.
  • Your lifestyle choices – if you smoke, your premiums might be higher. On the other hand, some providers offer rewards and incentives to live a healthier lifestyle, including discounted gym memberships or even reduced premiums.
  • Your cover level – comprehensive cover is more expensive than a basic plan, while optional extras could also push up your premium.
  • Your excess level – paying a higher excess could bring down the price of your premium. Just make sure you can afford to pay it if you need to make a claim.
  • Your claims history – previous claims you’ve made for medical treatment could affect the price you pay for your premiums come renewal time.

What to consider when choosing private health insurance

Health insurance providers’ terms and conditions can vary, so always check what you’re covered for. Here’s what to keep in mind when comparing health insurance quotes: 

Cover level

A comprehensive policy will cover most eventualities without a cost limit. Cheaper policies set a cap on how much you can claim.

Choice of specialists

Some health insurance providers will only pay for treatment from healthcare providers on their approved list.


There might be incentives, such as discounts on gym memberships.


For example, you could find the policy only covers limited outpatient treatment or doesn’t include it at all.


Health insurance prices are likely to be more expensive as you get older, as you’re more likely to make a claim.  

Waiting period

How long will you have to wait before you can make a claim for treatment? Some health insurance companies will cover you instantly while others could make you wait for certain treatments.

How can I get a cheaper quote for health insurance?

Here are some ways that could help reduce the cost of your health insurance:

1. Pay a higher excess

But make sure this is realistic and affordable because you’ll need to pay it before any claim can be processed.

2. Settle for reduced outpatient cover 

Having less outpatient cover, or none at all, could reduce your premiums. 

3. Agree on a reduced hospital list 

You’ll have access to a more limited range of hospitals, so make sure there are suitable options.  

4. Agree to a ‘six-week option’ 

Some insurance providers won’t let you make a claim if NHS treatment is available within six weeks. 

Author image Tim Knighton

What our expert says...

“News of huge NHS waiting lists has naturally prompted a renewed interest in private health insurance. But don't forget that many procedures need to be carried out in fully equipped NHS settings anyway, and that health insurance offers far more than just queue-jumping, including valuable benefits that are under-used.

For example, many policies now offer telephone-based mental health support as standard that you, and even family members who don't have their own policy, can access as often as necessary for free.” 

- Tim Knighton, Life, health and income protection insurance expert

What do I need to get a health insurance quote?

To find you a suitable quote, we’ll need to know:

1. Type of policy

Are you looking for an individual policy, a joint policy or a family policy?

2. Level of cover

How much cover do you want? Do you want full outpatient diagnostic assessments like blood tests, X-rays and MRI scans to be included in your policy?

3. Personal details

You’ll need to share details like your age, address and whether you smoke. 

If you’d like to speak to someone about the type of policy you need, call our expert partner Howden Life & Health on 0808 141 1334.

Start a quote

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to review my health insurance every year?

Some insurance providers automatically renew your private healthcare cover, in which case you don’t need to do anything.

However, it’s a good idea to compare policies when yours is ending, to make sure you’re still getting the cheapest deal for the cover you need.

Is there an age limit for health insurance?

You’ll usually need to be over 18 to take out your own policy, but anyone younger can normally be added to a family policy.

There can also be an upper age limit for private health insurance. Even if there isn’t, you’ll typically pay more the older you are.

Is it better to pay monthly or annually for health insurance?

Like many insurance products, you can normally save by paying for health insurance annually, rather than monthly. But it depends on your insurance provider. They should tell you which way works out cheapest.

Do I need private health insurance if I’m covered through work?

If the organisation you work for offers private health insurance as part of your benefits package, you probably don’t need extra medical cover.

However, you might find there’s a limit on the cover you receive or it may not cover your whole family.

It’s worth remembering that any insurance you get through work will only cover you for as long as you work there and will end as soon as you leave.

Will I need a medical exam to get covered?

If you don’t have any pre-existing conditions, you don’t usually need a medical to get cover.

You’ll just need to fill out a medical history form and choose your level of cover. Some health plans might offer you a general health assessment if you want one. 

However, if you’re older, have a pre-existing condition like diabetes or epilepsy or an unhealthy lifestyle, you may be required to take a medical before you can get cover.

Do I need a GP referral to go private?

Not always – you can get private healthcare treatment without a referral from your GP.

However, some insurance providers won’t cover your treatment without a GP referral, so check first if you’re planning to claim.

How much quicker can I get a GP appointment with private medical insurance?

Many private health insurance providers now offer GP services, either digitally or face-to-face. This means you should be able to get a private GP appointment very quickly, sometimes on the same day.

What’s the difference between inpatient and outpatient care?

Inpatient care refers to any treatment that requires a stay in a hospital or clinic for at least one night.

Outpatient care refers to treatments or tests that don’t require you to be admitted to hospital – for example, minor diagnostic tests such as an x-ray, or physiotherapy sessions.

What’s the difference between health insurance and critical illness cover?

Private health insurance takes care of your medical treatment if you fall ill, while critical illness cover offers extra financial help if you develop one of the critical illnesses listed in the policy. For example, it can cover loss of income if you’re unable to work.

These policies fulfil different needs. Private health insurance is often a one-year policy, while critical illness cover is usually bought for the long term.

Will my policy cover me outside of the UK?

No, health insurance policies are designed for cover in the UK.

If you need cover abroad for a short trip, choose a travel insurance policy with good medical care to cover you for accidents and emergencies.

If you’re living or working abroad, or have a holiday home overseas and spend part of the year there, you might want to consider international health insurance.

Some providers offer private health insurance plans for home and abroad, but you may have to pay more for your premium.

How are health insurance premiums taxed? Are they tax deductible?

If your employer provides health insurance, it’s considered a ‘benefit in kind’, which means it’s not tax deductible. Your employer should work out how much tax you owe for your health insurance premiums and deduct it from your pay.

If you’re an employer, you’ll need to complete a P11D form for each of your employees, stating the benefits they have received and submit it to HM Revenue & Customs (HRMC).

There are some exceptions for small companies, for example, where it could be considered a business expense. Your insurance provider should be able to tell you if you’re eligible for this exemption, or you can check with HMRC.

How does the excess work?

When you buy a policy, you can choose how much excess you pay – that is, how much you’ll contribute to the cost of treatment if you make a claim.

Depending on your insurance provider, you could set your excess at zero, £100, £500 or even £1,000. The higher your excess, the lower your premium is likely to be.

You’ll usually pay an excess on a claim once per person, per policy year – although some providers charge each time you claim. Others may offer you both options.

Always read your policy terms and conditions so you know when you’ll have to pay an excess. 

What is a pre-existing condition?

A pre-existing condition is anything you’ve previously had medical treatment for.

Common conditions include diabetes, heart disease and asthma. Most insurance providers count any condition you’ve had symptoms or treatment for in the past five years, even if you were diagnosed more than five years ago. 

Not all providers set the limit at five years, though, so read your policy documents carefully and compare the options before buying. 

What is the difference between full medical and moratorium underwriting?

These two ways of underwriting a health insurance policy relate to how insurance providers look at your pre-existing medical conditions when you take out cover.

If you choose full medical underwriting, you’ll fill in a questionnaire about your health when you apply for a policy. Your insurance provider might also want to speak to your doctor. They can then give you a clear-cut answer on which conditions they’ll cover and which they won’t – or which you’ll have to pay extra to cover.

With moratorium underwriting, you won’t provide any details of your medical history upfront. Instead, your provider will only investigate the details of any pre-existing medical conditions if you need to make a claim and then decide whether to cover you.

Can I get a no-claims discount on my private health insurance?

Some private health insurance providers offer a no-claims discount. Just as with car insurance, every year you don’t make a claim gives you an extra year of no-claims discount. This could reduce the cost of your premium when you renew it.

If you want a no-claims discount on your private health insurance, look for this feature when comparing providers.

How can I find the best UK private health insurance for me?

To find the best health insurance for you, it’s always worth comparing a variety of policies to see which offer the features you need, at a price you can afford.

What’s best for someone else might not be right for you, so you’ll need to consider your personal circumstances and what you want from your policy.

Page last reviewed on 30 APRIL 2024
by Tim Knighton