Published by Joe Davine on
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Private health care options in the UK

While the NHS is always there to provide free healthcare in the UK, you can often experience long waiting lists and a limited range of options when using it. If you have an illness or injury that you want to be addressed fast, be in a private room while in hospital, or be able to select your doctor or surgeon, then it is worth looking into private healthcare.

By going private you can save a lot of time, especially when it comes to accessing some treatments with long waiting lists like physiotherapy or needing a major surgery such as a hip replacement. This obviously comes at a cost, but we’ll take you through how much you can expect to pay and the different ways to pay for private healthcare.

What treatments can I get with private healthcare?

Through private healthcare you can find almost all treatments and surgeries, including some that aren’t available on the NHS. You won’t be able to get any emergency treatment through private healthcare, as only NHS hospitals are equipped to deal with these situations, but for most other things there is a private option.

You will probably find the cost of going private to be very high if trying to find treatment for long-term conditions such as cancer, but if you are looking to pay for a specific surgery or some less complicated treatment then it can be more affordable.

How much does it cost?

This can be a hard question to answer because private health providers will usually wait to assess a referral from your GP or consultant before giving an accurate cost, especially in the case of carrying out surgery that can have additional complications. You will also have to pay more for treatments in London than you will outside the capital.

In general, of course, the cost will depend on the type of treatment you’re looking for. If undergoing a course of physiotherapy then you can get appointments for about £60 each, whereas hospital tests such as an MRI scan will be more in the region of £500, and complicated surgeries will run into the £10,000s.

You will probably find the cost of going private to be very high if trying to find treatment for long-term conditions such as cancer, and given the level of aftercare required in these circumstances it is not recommended to treat your condition privately without insurance to help pay for it. However, if you are looking to pay for a specific surgery or some less complicated treatment then it can be more affordable.

What are the different payment options?

Paying out of your own pocket for private healthcare is of course only one option, and more and more people are now taking out health insurance policies to help them afford to get private medical treatment. These are the best options available to fund your treatment:

Pay as you go

Private healthcare providers typically have ‘pay as you go’ schemes set up whereby you can pay for specific treatments you want without having to sign up for a whole policy. Talk to your GP, and of course make sure you have sufficient savings to afford it, before thinking about paying for private healthcare out of your own pocket.

Employee benefit

companies nowadays offer some level of private health care to their employees, so get in touch with your employer’s HR department to find out if there’s a similar scheme at your work. This will usually be in the form of a ‘cash plan’, which provides a certain level of cover for different types of treatment (e.g. £250 towards dentistry, £300 towards optician costs etc.) each year, but some companies will offer more complete plans.

Health insurance

The best way to make sure you’re covered for potential private health care costs is to take out a health insurance policy. Also known as private medical insurance (PMI). There are a wide range of health insurance policies available with different conditions covered. They all have certain exclusions so it’s important to research each policy before taking one out, but health insurance will help protect you from large private healthcare costs.

Why get private medical insurance?

Taking out private health care insurance is a way of ensuring that you get top-quality medical care in the event of injury of illness. You will be safe in the knowledge that you will have your treatment in a private clinic or hospital paid for by the policy.

Perhaps even more important is the fact that you won’t need to sit around waiting on an NHS doctor and bed being available. Health insurance allows you to get speedy private medical treatment when you most need it.

However, it is important to bear in mind that health insurance isn’t cheap (the average policy costs £1,435 a year), and that the exclusions included as to what your insurance will pay for often mean you must be treated in certain hospitals or that any pre-existing conditions or pregnancy costs are not covered. On top of this, it is possible that your insurance won’t be able to cover the costs of some treatments in full.

Here’s a quick run-down of the pros and cons:


  • Wait times are considerably shorter than with the NHS.
  • You’ll have a private room if admitted to hospital.
  • You have more choice over your treatment options.
  • Specialist treatment and drugs might be available through your policy.
  • It’s easier to get scans and tests carried out.
  • Access to specialists it’s hard to see through the NHS.


  • Can be very expensive for comprehensive coverage.
  • Often excludes complex or pre-existing conditions and pregnancy.
  • Treatment is sometimes limited to a few select hospitals.
  • NHS will still handle emergency care.
  • Costs rise as you get older.
  • The coverage you have won’t always be sufficient to cover all your treatment.

Are you eligible?

If you want to get private medical insurance then the first thing you need to check is whether you’re eligible. Can anyone get a private healthcare policy or is there some sort of criteria that you need to meet?

The answer is that almost anyone can get health insurance. Some insurers may have an upper age limit, usually falling between 65 and 75, but there are many providers which will insure anyone regardless of their age (although health insurance costs rise significantly as you get older).

Even things such existing health problems will not stop you from getting a policy. However, details such as these may increase your premium or, more commonly, any illness related to your pre-existing condition will not be covered by your policy.

Should I Just Rely on the NHS?

The big question that you need you ask yourself before going ahead is whether you are comfortable relying on the NHS rather than paying for private health cover. This is clearly a personal decision and we each have different reasons to take into account.

Many people worry about the long waiting times associated with the NHS. Certainly, the lure of a fast, efficient service is the biggest appeal of private healthcare, and taking out a health insurance policy is the best way to guarantee that you won’t have to think about the financial side of your healthcare when you’re ill.

Ultimately any emergency care you have will continue to be provided by the NHS, and it’s up to you whether you want to pay extra for private healthcare (whether from your savings or through an insurance policy) for other forms of treatment.

Choosing the right health insurance policy

If you are sure that private medical insurance is the right choice for you, then the next step is to find the right policy. This means getting a policy that offers you the coverage you need at a price you can afford, and there are a lot of different health insurance policies to choose from.

Some health insurance policies are more comprehensive than others, as they cover for extras such as out-patient treatment as well as the basics. There are also policies specifically designed to protect against certain conditions such as cancer. Figuring out exactly what cover you need is the first step to finding the best policy for you.

How to get started

Once you know the coverage you’re looking for, then have a read through our in-depth reviews of all the options available to find the one that best suits your needs. Health insurance very complicated, so we’ve broken everything down and laid out all the details you need in plain English.

If you know what you need and are looking to get a quote immediately, then click the link below and we’ll find you the best policies right away.