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About Private Healthcare

When considering your healthcare options and you’re not sure where to start, this private healthcare guide could help.

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What is private healthcare?

The private or independent healthcare sector is made up of hospitals and clinics which are run independently of the National Health Service (NHS). They are normally run by a commercial company, although some may be run by charities or other non-profit organisations.

If you want to use the services of a private healthcare provider, you are responsible for the fees payable because the NHS does not subsidise any private healthcare costs.

Since the private treatment centres are completely independent, you can, in most cases, choose to be treated wherever you like. The prices and facilities available will vary from hospital to hospital, so if you are a self-pay patient (paying for your private treatment yourself) you may want to shop around. Some NHS hospitals may have a private wing or clinic which provides private care at lower prices.

Why use a private treatment centre?

There are lots of reasons for choosing to get treated in a private treatment centre. Some of these reasons may include worries about waiting times, fears over infection rates and MRSA, as well as simply wanting a second opinion or comfortable surroundings to recover in.

Private treatment centres can provide you with:  

  • Quick access to treatment.
  • Choice of when you would like to be treated.
  • Opportunity to choose your consultant or specialist.
  • Option to have treatment which may not be available on the NHS.
  • Comfortable and ‘home like’ surroundings usually with an ensuite bathroom, meal options and no restrictions on visits.

Although you may find the standard of care in the NHS very high; the desire for convenience and comfort may mean that you prefer to use the private sector.  Once you have decided to go private, you will need to choose where and when you would like to get treated.

How do I access private treatment?

You may be able to access private healthcare in various ways:

  • Private health insurance bought by yourself. Find out more
  • Private health insurance provided by your employer. Find out more
  • By self-paying – paying for the treatment yourself directly.
  • By taking a medical loan – provided by some private hospitals.

How to find a specialist?

Your GP may be able to recommend a specialist, but you can also do your own research online to find someone suitable.

Some hospitals provide specialist services for particular health conditions, for example some may specialise in heart conditions while others specialise in treating cancer. These hospitals are likely to have associated consultants who specialise in these areas.

Hospital websites can provide in depth information about their consultants including areas of expertise, qualification date and experience. These will help you make a decision about whether you would like to be treated by them. Remember that all consultants, whether they are private or NHS, must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). 

Once you have selected a consultant, you can call the treatment centre for a consultation. It is important that you feel you can talk to your consultant and feel that they are able to respond to your questions and communicate well with you.

Types of private hospitals

In the UK there are different types of private hospitals:

  • Large hospitals groups such as BMI Healthcare, Nuffield Hospitals, Ramsay UK Healthcare or Spire Healthcare
  • Small independent hospitals
  • Charitable hospitals
  • Private patient wings operated by NHS Trust hospitals
  • Private patient units within NHS hospitals operated by other private companies

How do I choose which private hospital to use?

If you are a self-pay patient or have an insurance plan that has no restrictions on where you can use your policy (such as Freedom Essentials), you are free to go to any private hospital you wish. In most cases you will need a GP referral and you can ask them to recommend a private treatment centre or specialist.

If you have an insurance plan that only allows you to get treated in a hospital from their approved list, check this first to make sure that the hospital you want is covered by your health cover.

You may also want to do some of your own research to find the place that most suits you. Most hospitals will have their own website, and many will allow you to visit to get a feel for the place.

Here are some important points to consider:

  • Price of the treatment – see below.
  • Consultants who work at the hospital. You can check the private hospital’s website and the General Medical Council for more information.
  • Infection rates and MRSA levels – developing an infection after surgery can really slow down your recovery. Find out what the infection rates are and compare these to your local NHS and other private hospitals. 
  • Customer ratings and reviews - what do other people say about the hospital and its facilities?
  • Facilities for emergency, high dependency care or intensive care unit, should the worst happen. Emergency facilities are not always found in private hospitals and many will send patients to the NHS in these situations. Find out what procedure the hospital has in place. 
  • Private room facilities – what facilities will you have access to? What are the visiting hours, and will these be convenient for your family and friends?
  • Location – how easy is it to get to the hospital not just for you but also for your visiting friends and family?

If you pay for your treatment from your own pocket or use an insurance policy that gives you a cash benefit to pay for your treatment, cost will be an important factor. Some hospitals will provide you with an ‘inclusive surgery package’ which usually includes the stay, costs for the procedure as well as the consultant’s fees for the procedure and follow-up. Always check with your hospital to find out exactly what is included in the package before you make a decision. Make sure you clarify whether the price will change should complications arise and you need further treatment.

There is a national guide by the Care Quality Commission which provides details on inspections of both NHS and private hospitals to ensure they meet government standards. You can search based on your location or the name of the hospital and you will get more details about the last inspection carried out.