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About Private Healthcare

When considering your private healthcare cover 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 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 to find the most affordable options. Some NHS hospitals may have a private wing or clinic which provides private care at lower prices.

Why use a private healthcare 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 healthcare treatment centres can provide you with:  

  • Quick access to medical treatment.
  • Choice of when you would like to be treated.
  • Opportunity to choose your consultant or specialist.
  • Option to have a 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 so you’ll have more personal space.

Although you may find the standard of care and support 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 healthcare treatment?

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

Accessing private healthcare through private health insurance

Funding your private healthcare by paying as you go from your own pocket can be very costly. To put yourself in control of your expenses and give you peace of mind, a private health insurance policy can help you access the healthcare you need in an affordable and easy way.

You choose the benefits you want and pay a monthly or annual premium for your health plan. Then, if you fall ill, you see your GP who may refer you for further tests and diagnosis to a specialist. This is where your private health insurance policy can help by covering your eligible private healthcare bills. You also benefit from the flexibility a health insurance plan can provide by allowing you to see a specialist at a time that's convenient to you. 

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How to find a private healthcare specialist?

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

Some private 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 specialists 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 specialists, whether they are private or NHS, must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC).

Once you have selected a specialist, you can call the treatment centre for a consultation. It is important that you feel you can talk to your specialist 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, including:

  • Large hospitals groups such as Circle Health Group, 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 a private health 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 medical 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.



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Private healthcare FAQs

How much is private healthcare?

How much private healthcare costs can really vary across treatment centres, but it can be very costly. A number of NHS hospitals may have a private clinic or wing providing private healthcare at a lower price so it’s a good idea to do some research first to ensure you choose the best option. As private healthcare can be expensive, it could be worth investing in a private health insurance plan so that it’s more affordable for you to access specialist medical care and treatments when you need it most. Get a quote for private health insurance here.

How does private healthcare work?

There are a number of private healthcare facilities in the UK that you could choose to go to should you want private medical treatment or care. Private hospitals in the UK are different from the NHS and are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to ensure that they are providing quality care. That said, you should always do your research into private hospital providers as the right one for you will depend on your personal circumstances and the treatment you require.

If you have private health insurance and fall ill or suffer from an acute condition, you can visit your GP who will be able to refer you to a specialist for a diagnosis or more testing if needed. You can then contact your private health insurance provider to start a claim if you decide to get private medical treatment under your insurance plan.

Does private healthcare insurance cover cosmetic surgery?

No, private healthcare insurance does not usually cover cosmetic surgery. Make sure that you check what is included in your health insurance policy so you know what you are, and what you’re not covered for. 


Does private healthcare insurance cover mental health?

Some private healthcare insurance may cover mental health, but not all insurance providers will. Here at Freedom Health Insurance, our private medical insurance covers mental health care (treatment of acute mental or psychiatric illness) when added as an optional benefit. Always remember to check your health insurance policy to understand what cover you have.

Does private healthcare insurance cover pre-existing conditions?

No, private healthcare insurance doesn’t usually cover pre-existing conditions. Make sure that you check what is included in your health insurance policy so you understand exactly what you are, and what you aren’t covered for.

How do I access private healthcare ?

You can access private healthcare by paying for it yourself, access it via your employer (if they provide cover), access it through your own individual private health insurance plan or by taking a medical loan (which is available at some private hospitals).

What is private healthcare insurance?

Private healthcare insurance is a type of insurance policy which is designed to cover costs relating to private medical care and treatment for illnesses and acute conditions that arise after your policy begins. Having private healthcare cover gives you access to private hospitals and facilities as well as medical treatment and expert advice at a time that suits you - so you won’t have to worry about long NHS waiting lists. You can find more information about how private health insurance works here.

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