Our health is often something we give little thought to until we, or our loved ones, become ill. Most of us know about the NHS (National Health Service) and its vital role in treating our physical and mental health problems and keeping us well, but not much beyond that. For instance, many people have less idea about the private healthcare sector and why they may want to choose to be treated privately if they become ill or are considering cosmetic surgery.
In the UK, private healthcare can be a popular choice for people who wish to receive faster and more personalised medical treatment.
Here are 10 things we think you should know about private healthcare in the UK:
1. What is private healthcare?
Private healthcare is care that is provided outside of the NHS. This means that individuals who choose to have private treatment must pay for it, either through health insurance or out of their own pocket. The healthcare provider will usually offer a variety of ways of financing and spreading the cost of care when you are paying yourself.
There are several healthcare providers in the UK who run hundreds of independent hospitals between them, and thousands of consultant doctors – who with the support of nurses and other healthcare workers – carry out diagnostic tests and medical and cosmetic procedures.
2. Private healthcare is not a replacement for the NHS
Private healthcare in the UK is not intended to replace the NHS. Instead, it is designed to provide additional options for those with medical conditions who want to access healthcare at a time that suits them, or who want to choose their own doctor or hospital.
Inpatient private hospital treatment (where you stay in a hospital for your treatment) most commonly involves operations such as hip replacements, knee replacements and cataract procedures
3. There are different ways of paying for private healthcare
There are different ways of funding private healthcare in the UK, including private medical insurance, self-pay treatment, and company-funded schemes. It's important to understand the differences between these options before deciding which one is right for you.
We have produced guides which are available in the Help and Advice section of our website to help you understand more and make more informed decisions.
4. Is private healthcare costly?
Looking after us when we are ill is an expensive business. When we use the NHS the treatment cost is paid through our taxes so we don’t see the bill. In comparison, the cost of private healthcare can be very visible, especially if you are paying for it yourself rather than using health insurance.
The cost varies depending on the type of treatment required, your condition and the location of the hospital. It's important to research costs before committing to treatment, and, if you are using private medical insurance, you should always check with your insurer to see what is covered under your health insurance policy before you commit to any treatment.
Some hospitals will display a ‘package price’ which covers the cost of your treatment. You should always check what your healthcare provider includes in the package price. For example, one hospital may include all fees for tests, treatment, follow-up appointments, aftercare and physiotherapy. Another hospital may not include all of those things. You can find out more about package pricing in our guide: Self-funding your private healthcare and medical treatment.
In other cases you will be billed separately for each aspect of your healthcare.
5. Private healthcare usually offers faster access to treatment
One of the main advantages of private healthcare is faster access to treatment. There can be long waiting lists for NHS hospitals and it can be unclear when you will receive diagnosis and treatment. Private healthcare typically offers shorter waiting times and more convenient appointment times.
6. Private healthcare offers more choice
Private medical care offers patients more choice in terms of their consultant doctor, hospital, and treatment options. This can be especially important for those with specific medical needs or preferences. For instance, people who want a cosmetic procedure will normally have it done in the private sector as they are not usually available on the NHS. Private health insurance will not normally cover the cost of cosmetic procedures.
You can research potential hospitals and consultants using the search function on our homepage. Just enter your postcode and, if you know it the type of procedure your are interested in, and options local to you will be displayed. You can find out about the number of procedures they have conducted, as well as costs and further details.
7. Private healthcare may offer different facilities
Private patients may receive a better choice of facilities and amenities in private hospitals than they would if they were having NHS treatment. This can include private rooms, more choice of food, and more comfortable waiting areas.
8. You may still need to use the NHS
Private healthcare in the UK does not cover emergency medical treatment, and there may be some treatments where the private provision is limited, such as obstetrics or that are only available through the NHS. It's important to be aware of when considering private healthcare.
9. Private healthcare providers must be registered with national regulator
Private healthcare providers in the UK must be registered with:
- the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in England
- Healthcare Improvement Scotland
- Healthcare Inspectorate Wales
- the Quality Improvement Authority (Northern Ireland)
These inspect, regulate and rate the quality and safety of healthcare services in NHS and independent (private) hospitals. You can read more about them in our guide: About healthcare regulators and their ratings.
10. Private healthcare may not be suitable for everyone
Private healthcare may not be suitable for everyone, especially those who cannot afford the cost of treatment. It's important to weigh the pros and cons of private healthcare before deciding whether it's the right option for you.
Is private healthcare for me?
Private healthcare in the UK can offer faster access to treatment and more choice, but it can also be expensive and may not be suitable for everyone.
It's important to research your options carefully and to make an informed decision based on your individual needs and circumstances.
We have produced some animations to help you understand private healthcare and how our website can help you make those decisions.