One of the biggest stories in healthcare in the UK over the past three or four years has been the number of people on National Health Service (NHS) waiting lists. Long NHS waiting times and backlogs at higher levels than in the pre-pandemic period have meant more people opting to use private healthcare. So how long will you have to wait if you choose to go private?

The good news is that in there are no ‘waiting lists’ as such in the private sector. This does not mean you will be seen immediately, as your preferred consultant may be unavailable straight away, or you might need to wait for approval from your private medical insurer (if you have one) for example. However, wait times in the private sector for elective procedures – those that are planned, for example hip replacements or knee replacements – are generally measured in days and weeks.

Every patient is different and therefore the only really accurate way to confirm when you can be seen is to speak to your chosen consultant and hospital. Your wait will depend on factors including the type of procedure you need, your existing health condition, your location and the consultant and hospital providing your healthcare. Whether you are a ‘self-pay’ patient (paying for care yourself) or using private medical insurance can also have an impact on whether and how long you’ll have to wait.

Initial consultations

One of the biggest concerns about waiting lists can be the delay in finding out if something is wrong with you, and, if so, what it is. This can cause additional stress on top of your health concern.

In the private sector, initial consultations and diagnostic tests are usually carried out faster than in the NHS. There are walk-in centres where you can be seen almost immediately, and most hospitals offer appointments within 48 hours of you making contact with them.

You can find out more about the 600+ private hospitals in the UK by using the search tool on our website.

If you choose to have diagnostic tests done in the private sector, you can still return to the NHS for treatment.

How does the wait for private treatment compare to the NHS?

The My Planned Care website can help you make a more informed decision about whether to wait for NHS care or proceed in the private sector.

Waiting times are just one part of your healthcare decision

Waiting times are only one aspect to be considered when making your healthcare decision. It is important to consider the hospital location, the consultant you’d like to be treated by, whether your private health insurance will fund the treatment (or whether you can afford it if you are self-paying). 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that costs vary from one provider to another. Some will give you a full 'package price' (letting you know all the costs involved) up front while other prices will vary depending on individual consultants, other services (including overnight stay(s) in hospital) and your needs.

You may also want to consider the hospital’s facilities, regulator ratings and safety records. Depending on the treatment you’re having and whether you have any complicating factors you may also want to check whether they have critical care units or intensive care units, and the aftercare you’ll require. 

The PHIN website can help you find out more about these factors.

Next steps

If you’d rather be cared for in the NHS, you should speak to your GP to receive a referral to an NHS service/hospital.

If however, you are ready to look into hospitals and consultants who could treat you in the private sector, then you can use the search tool at the top of each page on our website. You may still need a referral from a GP but this isn’t always the case so you can speak to the team at a private hospital to find out more.

If you’d like to learn more about private healthcare, then check out our guides in the Help and Advice section.

Fact checking

The contents of this blog post were shared with some of the UK's biggest healthcare providers to ensure accuracy: 

Was this article useful?