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.
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.
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 medical viewpoint but serve 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.
Depending on the level of coverage, your age, pre-existing conditions, and certain lifestyle choices, for example whether or not you are a smoker, monthly expenses for private health insurance start from around 18.50 GBP. Obviously, the more you spend, 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 are 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.
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.
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