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NHS vs Private Healthcare: Why Does it Matter?

When it comes to looking after your health, you always want to make an informed decision. If you’re weighing up NHS vs private healthcare providers then it is important to know what your options are.

NHS vs Private Healthcare: What is the Difference?

What is the NHS?

The NHS, or National Health Service, was launched in Great Britain in 1948 to provide good healthcare to all citizens regardless of how wealthy they were. Since then, this health service has grown to employ around 1.2m workers in September 2021. This still ranks the NHS as one of the biggest employers in the world.

Access to NHS healthcare is universal. This means that anyone can receive treatment in a hospital if they need it. UK residents will not technically pay anything for using its services. But as a result of their National Insurance contributions as well as other taxes, the UK resident will still provide some money towards the healthcare system once their income is high enough.

What is private healthcare and what is private medical insurance?

While the NHS is funded publically and run by the government, private healthcare is not run by the NHS.

One of the key differences between getting private treatment over NHS treatment is that, say, for instance, if a patient broke their leg, they would go to an NHS hospital and there would be no charge for fixing their leg and taking care of them. But if a patient walked into a private hospital they would likely have to pay for all the services that they required during their stay, unless of course, they had private health insurance.

There are many providers of private healthcare insurance in the UK. Some of the biggest providers include BUPA, Aviva, AXA and Saga.

Private health insurance works by paying regular contributions to your provider, just as people would for any other insurance. And, similar to car insurance, each policy varies depending on a lot of factors (including your health) and the extent of the cover also varies depending on each healthcare plan.

Does the NHS Provide Better Care?

A huge organisation, NHS treatment spans all kinds of operations and services. From mental health support to physio support for sports-related injuries and even just everyday routine procedures, it provides world-class care.

On the whole, the NHS does provide brilliant care. This is largely thanks to the structure of the NHS. The CQC or Care Quality Commission, along with local health scrutiny committees as well as health and wellbeing boards ensure that there are multiple levels of monitoring to ensure the best care is being given. These bodies act as watchdogs on a national, regional and local scale.

One of the main criticisms of NHS care is the long waiting times. Private healthcare meanwhile can ensure that you reach a specialist in a much shorter time period.

There are also many other benefits of private healthcare. This includes having access to a private room, fast treatment of acute medical conditions and access to exclusive drugs and treatments. In general, the facilities may be more modern, comfortable in private hospitals. Even the food may be of better quality. But all this does of course come at a much larger premium and this is also why private healthcare gives people some extra comfort and more privacy.

Can you use private healthcare and NHS?

The answer is yes, you can. Even if you pay for private healthcare, you are still able to access NHS healthcare. In fact, NHS hospitals or dentists will often be able to provide a separate set of private services alongside its NHS services. So it is quite common for people to use both. This is especially true when accessing a dentist or optician where there is usually a range of NHS and private services. At the same time, you might have to be referred to a specialist within the NHS, even though you’re using a private practice.

But the key issue is that you can’t mix and match during a treatment. The NHS says: “You can’t have a cataract operation on the NHS and pay privately for special lens implants that are normally only available as part of private care.”

Is It Better to Work for the NHS or Private Healthcare?

Working for the NHS comes with a raft of benefits. It starts with a clear pay band structure for its employees known as the Agenda for Change. The NHS says that it guarantees a salary to match your ability and responsibilities. Working overtime or out of hours can be rewarded and you can get up to 33 days of holiday after working 10 years for the NHS. Plus there are solid NHS pension schemes.

The UK is very proud of its NHS workers and there is a whole range of discounts for when you’ve got some leisure time outside of work. This includes eating out, discounts and deals on groceries, phone bills.

On the flip side, you might be able to leverage your skills and experience to earn a much higher salary in private healthcare. Workloads could also be less demanding, with faster access to private healthcare thanks to its smaller practices.

The Future of the NHS vs Private Healthcare Debate

A 2013 YouGov poll surveyed how Brits felt about the NHS in the future. 41% of those who responded said the NHS would not exist in the same form by 2020.

The keyword in the future of this healthcare battle is privatisation. Is the NHS ‘for sale’? The answer according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock is no. But there are rumours circulating about the future of the NHS which suggests that it is being privatised by ‘stealth.’

But the fact of the matter is that you can still access both NHS and private healthcare without the two really interfering at the moment. In the future, there may be even more private treatments and insurance plans available. Whether you’re thinking about working in either NHS or private healthcare, or if you’re debating going private for your own health treatment, then it is vital to weigh up all the benefits and make the decision that is right for you.

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