Guide to Private Health Care

Residents of the UK can be rightly proud of the NHS. For almost 70 years the National Health Service has provided free, professional care to everyone from cradle to grave. So you may wonder why private health care is so popular.

Why opt for private health care?

There are several reasons why people choose private health care over that provided through the NHS. We live in an age where we are regularly bombarded by stories in the media about increasing waiting lists, ‘superbugs’ and poor hospital standards. We also have little or no say in who treats us and, for ongoing care, we don’t get much chance to have continuation of care from the same medical staff, often having our notes passed from doctor to doctor. Waiting lists for non-life threatening admissions can be as long as 18 weeks – a long time if you have to be off work until your treatment or if you need to be in peak health in order to look after children or other relatives.

The NHS is an amazing body and one which provides excellent levels of care but personal choice over treatment and considerations of flexibility in our own lives is something that many of us are turning to as a viable health option. So what are the choices that private health care gives us? By paying for your treatment you have the right to choose which specialist you see, the time you see them, which hospital you would stay in and the type of aftercare or therapy open to you. Private health care has a reputation for being expensive but you can go some way to mitigating that by taking out private health insurance. There are plans to suit most budgets and, thanks to the number of policies and companies out there offering them, there is a wide variety of choices to help you tailor a policy that best suits your needs. Prices can start from £10.98 a month depending on your health and age.

Does private health care exempt you from the NHS?

Not at all - it isn’t a mutually exclusive situation – just because you take out private health insurance or opt for private treatment doesn’t mean that you aren’t able to access the NHS as well. The specialists who work in private care have typically been trained by the NHS and work for the NHS. It is better to consider private treatment as an option to complement the NHS rather than replace it – private health care is there to give you added flexibility. Despite the private healthcare sector and the NHS being separate they do work together with government support. Your local primary care trust may even have a contract with a private health provider to deliver some of their services. As such you may be able to receive private care within your local NHS hospital albeit with your own private room.

Aims of private health insurance

Private health insurance (alternatively known as medical insurance or PMI) is there to call on when the worst happens. It gives you peace of mind at a difficult time of your life when you just need health care without having to worry about the associated costs. It typically covers shorter term illnesses, injuries and diseases that can be cured. Some plans cater for sporting injuries, cancer care and mental health care too.

Bear in mind that you don’t need private health insurance to use private health care – some people prefer to save a regular sum each month to set aside for ‘if and when’. If you do decide to pay directly for your own treatment then this is termed ‘self paying’ by the industry. It’s also worth checking with your employer – some offer private health care as a workplace perk.

Advantages of private health care

The most popular private health care benefits include:

• Fast referral times avoiding NHS waiting lists
• Appointment times arranged to suit your schedule
• Access to choice of specialists and consultants
• Stay in private hospitals (usually in your own room and with en-suite facilities)
• Good quality food during your hospital stay
• Access to NICE-approved drugs not currently available on the NHS
• Access to cosmetic surgery
• Unrestricted visiting times

For many, it’s not just getting an operation carried out more quickly, it’s also the expectations of better aftercare. You will have your own room, not being placed on a ward (same-sex or mixed), where you would have access to a phone, TV and a choice of better quality food than you would expect from the NHS.

You have probably heard of the ‘postcode lottery’ when it comes to the NHS. This is where certain drugs or treatment are only available to you depending on where you live. Sometimes there are approved treatments and medications that aren’t prescribed on the NHS simply because none of the health trusts can afford them. With private treatment you have access to these otherwise unavailable solutions.

When it comes to in-patient treatment you may be aware that the doctor or specialist who first sees you might not be the one who follows you throughout your entire stay or period care. This can impact on the confidence you have in the service as you may find yourself having to repeat yourself to several health care practitioners. With private health care you will be able to select your specialist or consultant, for example, who will be with you throughout your period of treatment – this is often very reassuring and this stability can be beneficial to your recovery as well.

Is private health care more than surgical procedures?

It’s not surprising that when you consider needing hospital treatment your thoughts drifts towards operations. However it’s more wide-ranging than that. Additional services available include dental treatment, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, counselling and rehabilitation if you have drug and substance abuse issues.


Private health care can be a valuable option in giving you additional options for treatment and a better degree of organising your care. Although it has its limitations, there are many benefits for potential patients and it’s worthwhile spending some time looking into what it can offer you.

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