What Is UK Private Healthcare and How Does It Differ to the NHS?

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The National Health Service was launched in 1948 and has grown to the one of the largest publicly funded healthcare services, recognised internationally. But due to the coronavirus pandemic the NHS has seen a massive strain, with waiting lists setting patients back by years. 

Of course, these wait times can vary by speciality and region and whilst it works tirelessly to shorten these times, the system still struggles.

The private healthcare sector is made up of hospitals and clinics which are run independently of the NHS. They’re normally run by a commercial company, though some may be run by charities or other non-profit organisations.

Why Choose Private Treatment?

There are lots of reasons for choosing to receive treatment in a private treatment centre. They can provide you with:

  • Quick access to treatment
  • A choice of when you’d like to be treated
  • Opportunity to choose your consultant or specialist
  • Option to have treatment not available on the NHS
  • Comfortable surroundings and higher quality care
  • The cost of private healthcare

How Do They Differ? - Comparing the NHS and Private Healthcare

Waiting Times

When seeking medical treatment for a condition, you would normally book an appointment with your NHS GP. Sometimes, this can take up to 2 weeks or longer, depending on the number of people registered at the same GP practise.

With most private health insurance plans, you can now access a virtual GP, with some even giving the option to choose a private GP too. This means you could be seen much faster and have your treatment started promptly.


While undergoing treatment, it is likely your quality of care is similar to that of a hotel – in private hospitals you may experience hotel-like facilities and/or services which could include things like private accommodation, ensuite bathroom facilities, entertainment options and better food choices. You also usually benefit from non-restricted visiting hours and seeing the same consultant.

In comparison, it’s safe to say a number of these benefits are not available on the NHS. You could find yourself in a mixed ward, shared bathroom facilities, limited visiting hours and lower-level consultants instead of the direct professionals.

Opportunity to Choose Your Consultant or Specialist

With private healthcare, there’s the advantage of the choice of hospital and treatment whenever is best suited to you. You will usually be seen within a week or so of your GP requesting a referral, and tests can be arranged in a matter of days.

On the other hand, with the NHS choices are limited and waiting lists can (and currently are) extremely lengthy.

Option to Have Treatment Not Available on the NHS

Due to the costs of some drugs that aren’t as common as others, the NHS might not be able to pay for them, therefore making some patients resort to private healthcare to access the aforementioned drugs.

However, there are some treatments with private health insurance that depend on the level of cover you have as well as the benefits you’ve chosen. Some treatments may not be available privately and have to be accessed through the NHS. 

The Cost of Private Healthcare Vs NHS

The NHS provides free healthcare to millions all over the UK.

To access private healthcare, you can either do it yourself as a ‘self-pay’ patient, or use a private medical insurance plan that pays for your private care. A self-paying patient is when a patients finances their treatment from their own pocket. But this can be quite expensive in the long run, which is why getting a health insurance plan could be cheaper for you.

Mixing Treatment Options

Some people tend to mix both NHS treatment and private treatment for a number of reasons;

  • A&E: A&E services are only offered by the NHS, and most health insurance premiums don’t offer emergency cover
  • Chronic Conditions: Health insurance premiums also don’t tend to cover chronic conditions, meaning you will have to pay to access private healthcare for these conditions. The NHS provides this services to anyone for free.
  • Healthcare for Children: While health insurance policies offer the option to add your children to your policy, the NHS already offer immediate priority to children, which could mean shorter waiting times for adults.
  • Ability to Use Both: Using private health insurance policies to pay for private treatment will also not affect the NHS healthcare you probably already have access to.
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