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Healthcare in the UK

Private Health Insurance in the UK

As the UK offers affordable public healthcare to all residents via the NHS and HSC, there is often no pressing reason for people to buy private health insurance for themselves and their families. In fact, only 10.5% of the population, just under four million people, opted for private medical insurance.

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  • Although most of the treatment you will ever need is available for free on the NHS, a shortage of funds can lead to long waiting times, especially for specialist doctors.
  • Private Health Insurance will allow expats to skip the queues and go straight to the professional – but it comes at a cost.
  • Premiums vary greatly and tend to increase if you are a smoker, a person over 60, or have already been diagnosed with a serious medical condition.

The reasons are quite simple: public healthcare in the UK might not be all-encompassing, but it offers a reasonable standard of care for everyone.

Is Private Health Insurance Worth It?

The main benefit of making use of the private health sector in the UK is not necessarily the quality of treatment, but rather avoiding the potentially long waiting times and, depending on the region you live in, the limited availability of specialists who accept NHS patients. The NHS runs on limited funds, and the great demand for its services can sometimes show the limits of what the system can offer in terms of the range and cost of treatments.

Private sector healthcare professionals can help tackle the above problems, as they are both widely available and less often overburdened with patients (mainly due to the costs that come with seeing a private doctor). Thus, most offers for private health insurance in the UK advertise the greater level of choice customers can have about when and where they will be treated, who will tend to them, and what methods of treatment will be used — including some that are not available on the NHS.

Spending money on private health insurance in the UK also makes it (financially) easier for patients to access one of the many private hospitals, treatment centers, and specialty clinics found throughout the UK. Most of these are part of one of the four leading private hospital networks: Ramsay, BMI, Nuffield Health, and Spire. These networks also run a number of other institutions related to health and wellbeing, for example, spas. You can browse and search for all private and NHS hospitals using this online hospital guide. Moreover, the Care Quality Commission rates healthcare providers in the UK from ‘inadequate’ to ‘outstanding’ and publishes its findings in a detailed public report.

10 Biggest Private Hospitals in the UK by Revenue

Private Hospital Providers Revenue in 2017 (£m)
Bupa Cromwell 90
Circle 100
Aspen 130
London Clinic 150
Care UK 185
Ramsay 420
Nuffield Health 570
HCA 935
BMI 940
Spire 950

The Price Is High If You’re Not Insured

You are, of course, always free to see a private doctor or visit a private hospital without coverage. In some cases, particularly when the NHS does not pay for a certain type of treatment or medication, you might not have an alternative to using the private sector. The same is true for all procedures that are not necessary from a medical viewpoint but for cosmetic purposes.

However, keep in mind that you might stand to pay enormous amounts even if you did not intend to receive any major treatment. If you have some disposable income and would like to buy a bit of peace of mind, you might want to shop around and compare.

Choosing Your Coverage: Available Policy Types

Depending on the level of coverage, your age, pre-existing conditions, and certain lifestyle choices, i.e. whether or not you’re a smoker, monthly expenses for private health insurance start from around 18.50 GBP. Obviously, the more you spend to a point, the more your insurance will cover, be it costs incurred from treatments, consultations, diagnoses, or medication.

You cannot expect too much from the very basic options, though – they usually provide only inpatient cover, which means your insurance company will take care of the costs of a hospital stay, but not for any consultation or diagnosis you received at the hospital without having to stay overnight. It is also possible that you will not get to choose the hospital freely. However, given the many different offers, providers, and possibilities to customize your policy to fit your needs, generalizations cannot easily be made.

If your main cause for concern is the waiting times for certain specialist consultations and diagnostics the NHS provides, which can easily extend to a couple of weeks, you might want to look into diagnostics coverage. This will enable you to cut down on waiting times and get diagnosed immediately by specialists; you will, however, have to decide whether or not you want the actual treatment to be taken care of by the NHS or privately, which will obviously come at its own price.

Which Provider to Choose?

The market for private medical insurance in the UK is mostly split between four major players:

There are, however, a number of smaller insurers with competitive offers, so shopping around is definitely worth it.

If you do not feel like browsing the insurers’ individual websites for quotes and rates, a simple web search will lead you to a number of independent comparison sites which will assist you in making a decision. Alternatively, you can search for an independent broker in your area using the search engine provided by the Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries.

Staying Healthy Could Save You Money on Insurance

Some companies offer perks to customers who prove they’re keeping healthy. Aviva’s MyHealthCounts scheme offers the chance to get 15% off your next renewal premium if you show you’re making healthy lifestyle choices.

In addition, VitalityHealth customers can get an Apple Watch from £99 with the chance to pay no more if you prove your active lifestyle by tracking when you exercise. And that’s not all – with their Active Rewards, they’ll give you a free drink at a major coffee shop and cinema tickets, if, for example, you take 12,500 steps a day twice in one week.


Updated on: March 26, 2019
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