Private healthcare in the UK

What are the advantages and disadvantages of private healthcare in the UK?

With the NHS continually under pressure, could private healthcare be the way to go?

We are lucky in this country to have the NHS; the ability to have medical help and support open and accessible to all at any time is widely considered to be one of Britain’s all-time greatest achievements. But lately the worry over its longevity has left many of us wondering – would private healthcare in the UK be a better option?

This unease has only been heightened by reports of over-worked, poorly paid doctors and nurses and under staffed departments. And most recently by the news that taxes would need to increase to an additional £2000 per household for 15 years to try and bring it back from the brink.

Back in 2013, You Gov published a report about the UK’s healthcare choices and how people felt about the NHS and private healthcare as an option. Although the NHS is still here in 2018, around 41% didn’t believe it would last out the decade (to 2020) in its current state at the time – and that was just five years ago. Only 22% had faith that it would survive.

In fact, the same report found that more than half of the UK (61%) thought that patients should be able to get treated at private hospitals, and around the same number of people believed that these private establishments should help to reduce waiting lists for the NHS.

But where are we now? The institution will celebrate its milestone 70th anniversary this year, but there are still major shortages of doctors, nurses, beds and more, putting the risk to patient safety at an all time high. And experts are now warning that the NHS would need an extra 4% income a year for the next 15 years to survive.

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So is private healthcare in the UK the answer?


What the You Gov’s 2013 report found is that people are starting to look at other options – private healthcare being the fundamental alternative in the UK – with 53% of people saying that they would pay for private healthcare if they could afford it.

But, it also found that the cost of ‘going private’ was the main factor for sticking with the NHS. 

Today we could be hearing a different story. Bupa UK offers health insurance to 2.2 million people in the UK, and hospitals like Nuffield Health, based in Wolverhampton and Stoke, who have been providing private healthcare in the UK for the last 40 years, treated around 6000 surgical inpatients last year.


The benefits of private healthcare in the UK


1.Quicker diagnosis, faster treatment

One of the biggest pitfalls of the NHS is the waiting time for treatment after referral or diagnosis. And, although it has been improved to a wait of no longer than 18 weeks, private care will drastically decrease this wait time, meaning you could be diagnosed and treated quicker – speedier appointments means faster treatment.

2. Innovative healthcare

Private hospitals have greater access to the latest medication and treatment procedures meaning you could be receiving much more effective treatment, leading to less recovery time and a more comfortable one.

3. Private facilities

Private hospitals mean private facilities – you can pay to have your own room, and it’s often ok for a spouse to stay with you too for added support. There are grades of private care which can make it more affordable, such as sharing a room with one or more people, but there is usually never more than four people together in a room. Some people find that this privacy aids in their recovery as they find it more comfortable and relaxed in a personal environment.

4. Round the clock support

There is no denying the hard work of all NHS staff, and the level of care is always to the highest standards, but private facilities have more flexibility with the support they can provide to patients – with 24-hour customer support teams and aftercare plans in place to give more hands-on care. For example, Nuffield Health gives all patients a 30-day or three-month Nuffield Health gym pass (depending on the illness) after surgery to help with a healthy and speedy recovery.

5. More personalised care

It’s not unusual to see a different doctor or nurse every time you have to go for a consultation at the NHS and while that doesn’t mean they are any less up-to-speed with your case, sometimes it’s nice to see the same doctor throughout your treatment. With private care, you can choose your consultant and see them every time you have to make an appointment.


What about the cons?

There are some disadvantages to private medical care though – such as the cost of insurance or one- off treatments. With some insurance plans, you might find that the treatment for certain illnesses, diseases or conditions are not covered, and you will get only what you pay for – the more cover you want, the more money you’ll have to pay out. It is essential to do your homework when it comes to private medical insurance (PMI).

While most UK residents can get ‘free’ health care on the NHS, having private medical insurance means that all or some of your medical bills through a private hospital will be paid for. You may wish to have this type of insurance to subsidise the care you can receive from the NHS or you might wish to use private hospitals for all your medical care needs.

Having these options, gives you more of a choice in how, where and by who you are treated.

If you decide to take out PMI, you need to consider the type of policy you are going with and understand what is and isn’t included. In most cases, a basic policy will cover in-patient and out-patient tests and surgery, but there are exceptions, for example: organ transplant, any pre-existing conditions, normal pregnancy and childbirth and injuries relating to dangerous sports, among others.

The Money Advice Service gives the following advice on whether it is worth taking out a PMI: “Waiting times in the NHS are currently pretty good and fairly stable, so there’s less need to pay privately in order to reduce the time it takes you to get back to work or to good health. It can be good value if you might need specialist, expensive treatment.

“If you’re a sporting enthusiast, for example, you might want access to specialist private treatment that isn’t available in the NHS – like surgeons and experts who only do private work. You’d need to have a policy that covers the type of treatment you might need. If you needed to make more than one claim, it’s quite likely that private medical insurance would save you money. Even if you get private medical insurance, you’ll keep your right to use the NHS. It remains a safety net that will pick up the tab for anything that isn’t covered by your insurance policy.”

If you prefer not to take out PMI, then you would need to use other means to pay for private care, such as savings.

Remember too that in this country there is no option to defer NHS-related payments from taxes taken out of your monthly salary. So, if you do decide to opt for private healthcare, you will in effect be paying for both services. 

How do you feel about the NHS and private healthcare in the UK and Staffordshire? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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