Private Business Intermediaries

About Private Healthcare

You may be considering your healthcare options  or not sure where to start, this page will help you find our all you need to know about private healthcare including:

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 company, although some may be run by charities or not for profit organisations.

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

Since the private treatment centres are completely independent, you can, in most cases, choose to be treated where ever you like. The prices and facilities available will vary from hospital to hospital so if you are a ‘cash buyer’ (paying for treatment yourself) you may want to shop around. Some NHS hospitals may provide a private wing or clinic which may provide private care at cheaper 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 are able to provide you with:  
  • Quick access to treatment.
  • Choice of where you want to be treated.
  • Choice of when you would like to be treated.
  • Opportunity to choose your consultant or specialist.
  • Option to have treatment(s) which may not be available on the NHS.
  • Comfortable and ‘home like’ surroundings usually with an ensuite, meal options and no restrictions on visitations.

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. See our How to Choose a Private Hospital guide for more information.

How do I access private treatment?

You may be able to access private healthcare through:
  • Private health insurance bought by yourself.
  • Private health insurance provided by your employer.
  • By ‘self paying’ – paying for the treatment directly using your own money.
  • By taking a medical loan – some hospitals provide loans to help you to pay for your treatment.

How to find a specialist

Your GP may be able to recommend a specialist but you can also research the web to find someone suitable.

Many hospitals provide specialist services for particular health conditions, for example some may specialise in heart conditions while others specialise in nose and throat. These hospitals will likely have an associated consultant(s) who specialises in this area.

Hospital websites can provide in depth information about their consultants including areas of expertise, qualification date and experience. These will help you to make a decision about whether you would like to be treated by them. Remember that all doctors, 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 able to respond to your questions and communicate well with you. If you are not sure, you may want to try another consultant (this may mean you have to pay another consultation fee but this may be money well spent) to ensure you get the service you need.

Types of private hospitals

In the UK there are different types of private hospitals:
  • Large hospital groups such as:
    • BMI healthcare – Provides acute private care and is the largest independent provider of private health care in the UK with over 70 hospitals nationwide
    • Capio – A pan-European hospital provider with over 60 units (but only one in the UK)
    • Nuffield Hospitals – Nuffield Health is the UK’s largest not for profit healthcare organisation. They have over 31 hospitals as well as fitness and well being centres making over 200 units nationwide
    • Spire Healthcare- Nationwide network of 37 hospitals.
  • Small independent hospitals
  • Charitable hospitals
  • Private patient clinics or units within NHS Trust hospitals

How do I choose which private hospital to use?

If you are a ‘self paying’ customer or have an insurance plan that has no restrictions on where you can use your policy, you are free to go to any private hospital you wish. In most cases you will need a GP referral and you can ask him or her to recommend a private treatment centre or specialist.

However, you may also like to do some of your own research to find the place that most suits you. Most hospitals will have their own websites and many will allow you to visit before hand to get a feel for the place.

Important points to consider include:
  • Price of the treatment – see below
  • Specialists or consultants who work at the hospital. What are their specialities – have you met them?
  • Infection rates and MRSA levels – developing an infection after surgery can really slow down your recovery. Find out what the rates are and compare these to your local NHS and private hospitals. 
  • Customer ratings and reviews - What are other people saying about the hospital and its facilities?
  • Facilities for emergency, high dependency care or intensive care unit should the worst happen. Emergency facilties 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 and for visits from family?

Prices: If you are 'self paying' or acting like one (with an insurance policy that gives you cash to spend as you wish), the cost of the treatment 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 what exactly 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 available by the Quality Care Commission which provides details on inspections of both NHS and private hospitals to ensure they meet government standards.