Guide to private healthcare

If you want more options for medical treatment, you might want to use private healthcare as an alternative to, or as well as, the NHS. But without health insurance, it can be very costly. Here’s a look at the advantages and disadvantages of going private.

If you want more options for medical treatment, you might want to use private healthcare as an alternative to, or as well as, the NHS. But without health insurance, it can be very costly. Here’s a look at the advantages and disadvantages of going private.

Mubina Pirmohamed
Head of Life Insurance
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Posted 14 MAY 2021

What is private healthcare?

Although the National Health Service (NHS) provides a high standard of healthcare compared to many other countries, it’s under a great deal of stress, particularly during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

NHS waiting times are notoriously long and you don’t get to pick and choose who can treat you or which hospital you get to to stay in.

Paying for private healthcare means that you can often be treated more quickly, by the consultant of your choice. You’ll have access to private hospitals and in some cases, treatments that aren’t available on the NHS.

However, private healthcare isn’t cheap – even some of the most straightforward procedures can run into thousands of pounds. And if you don’t have health insurance and you want to go private, you’ll need to pay for treatment yourself.

Did you know?

Receiving private healthcare doesn’t mean you’ll be giving up your right to free NHS care. You’ll still have access to the NHS at any time.

How do I get private healthcare?

You can ask for a referral from your GP. Ask them what private healthcare options are available. They may be able to recommend a specialist or treatment centre.

You can also do your own research if you want to find a particular specialist or private hospital. Just remember that all consultants, both private and NHS, must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC).

Alternatively, some consultants and specialists will see you without a GP referral. But the British Medical Association believes it’s best to be referred by a GP because they know your history. Some insurance providers may also require a GP referral.

Where can I get private healthcare?

There’s a wide range of private treatment facilities throughout the UK.

The major private hospital groups are:

  • BMI Healthcare – 51 private hospitals throughout the UK offering in excess of 500 different treatments, across over 60 specialities including spinal, orthopaedic, neuro, cardiac and cancer care.
  • Nuffield Health – the UK’s largest non-profit healthcare organisation with 31 hospitals, 39 medical centres and 112 fitness and wellbeing centres. It specialises in services that might not be readily available on the NHS like weight loss surgery, assisted conception, laser dermatology treatments and some chemotherapy treatments.
  • HCA –has a range of private hospitals and clinics across London, as well as in Kent, Surrey, Hertfordshire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester – covering a wide range of health issues including paediatric care.
  • Spire Healthcare – 39 hospitals and 8 clinics across the UK offering a range of specialist care including orthopaedic, cardiac, physiotherapy, fertility, cosmetic and cancer care.
  • Ramsay Health – 33 hospitals in England offering a wide range of specialist treatments including weight-loss surgery, orthopaedics and neurological services.
  • Circle Health – run in partnership with the NHS, Circle Health offers a wide range of NHS District General Hospital services and has two highly regarded hospitals in Bath and Reading.

You can also receive private healthcare at:

  • Small, independent hospitals and clinics
  • Charitable hospitals
  • Private patient wings in NHS Trust hospitals
  • Private patient units in NHS hospitals operated by independent private health companies

Some private healthcare providers also offer private GP services.

What to consider when choosing a private hospital

The best private hospital for you could depend on the treatment you need, the specialist staff and consultants available and how far away the hospital is from your home.

Cost is also a major factor and it can vary depending on the location of the hospital. For example, it’s likely you’d pay more for treatment at a London hospital.

When considering a private hospital, there are some important things to consider:

  • The total cost of treatment
  • Which consultants work at the hospital
  • The hospital’s reputation - customer reviews and ratings
  • Infection rates and MRSA bacteria levels compared to the local NHS hospital and other private hospitals in the area
  • Emergency facilities and procedures – do they have emergency/intensive care in place, or would you be sent to an NHS hospital if something goes wrong?
  • Private room facilities – for example, en-suite, television, WiFi
  • Visiting hours for friends and family
  • Location – how far away is the hospital? Will it be difficult for family and friends to visit you?

What are the advantages of private healthcare?

There are a number of benefits in going private:

  • Faster diagnosis and treatment
  • Access to medications and treatment procedures that might not be available on the NHS
  • Greater control of who your consultant will be and which hospital you can go to
  • Comfortable, private facilities – often your own room with en-suite – and some hospitals will let your partner or spouse stay with you for added support
  • Choice of menu – most private facilities offer a menu with appetising meals to choose from, rather than ‘typical’ hospital food
  • Personalised care – 24-hour support teams and in most cases, the same consultant throughout your treatment

What are the disadvantages of private healthcare?

  • It’s expensive – even the most straightforward procedures could end up costing thousands of pounds. If you don’t have private medical insurance, treatment costs will have to come out of your own pocket
  • You might end up paying more – if there are complications and you need a longer hospital stay or further treatment, it may end up costing far more than you originally thought
  • Emergency care – some private hospitals can’t offer the same intensive/emergency care that NHS hospitals do
  • Private healthcare doesn’t typically cover accident and emergency cases, which will need to be treated by the NHS
  • Many consultants treat both private and NHS patients – you might be paying unnecessarily for the same level of care

How much does private healthcare cost?

There’s no standard cost for private healthcare treatments, as every private facility has their own price list. Price can also depend on the type of procedure and the staff involved.

For example, there will be a fee for your actual stay in hospital – nurses, bed, food, medicines etc, then separate fees for the procedure itself, consultant fees and anaesthetist fees.

And as we mentioned before, you also need to account for possible complications that could prolong your stay in hospital and any further treatment you might need.

Some hospitals may offer ‘surgical packages’ which include your stay, procedure costs, consultant fees and any follow-up appointments. Although this could be more cost-effective, you should always check to find out what exactly is included in the package. For example, will you have to pay more if you need further treatment?

Will private medical insurance cover me?

Private medical insurance is designed to help cover the cost of your private healthcare. There are a whole range of private medical insurance policies available, with various levels of cover at varying costs.

You can choose between individual cover, joint cover for you and your husband, wife or partner, or family health insurance which covers the whole family under one policy.

Before you take out a private health insurance policy, check what level of cover you might need. Many policies won’t cover pre-existing conditions or chronic (long-term) conditions. You might also find you’re not covered for fertility treatment, pregnancy and childbirth, cosmetic surgery or injuries caused by extreme sporting activities. The last thing you want is to pay for a policy, only to find you’re not covered.

Also check whether you’re already covered for private healthcare under your employment benefits package. You might only be covered as long as you’re working at your current place of employment, and the package might not cover your family.

One of the best ways to find the right level of cover for you, is to shop around and compare quotes. Give us a few details about yourself and the level of cover you want, so we can send you a list of suitable quotes to choose from.

Policy jargon can be complicated. If you’re not sure which type of cover might suit you best, you can give our partners at Assured Futures a call on 0808 141 1334. They’ll be able to offer expert advice and talk you through your options.

Their line is open from:
Monday - Thursday 9:00am – 8:00pm 
Friday - 9:00am - 5:00pm
Saturday - 10:00am - 2:00pm Sunday – Closed

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