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If you’re undergoing some form of medical condition in the UK, then you have two choices when it comes to how you can get diagnosed or treated. The first is through the NHS, the free universal healthcare system that has been operating since 1948, or the private healthcare system. With only around ten percent of the UK population electing to buy private healthcare insurance, the majority of people in this country will be less familiar with the private system as opposed to the NHS. That being the case, we’ve put this guide together if you’re interested in learning more about private healthcare in the UK.
That being said, you can also find out more information from your local NHS GP with the Patient Choice Program. The NHS has a goal to significantly improve patients’ choices of treatment and make them more aware of the options they have available to them, and private healthcare is a significant part of this. What this means is that all specialist referrals and GPs will discuss treatment options with their patients, and give them good, quality, up to date information.
The important thing to remember is that even if you decide to pursue private healthcare, this in no way affects your rights to be treated at the NHS, which always remains a viable option when needed.
So, where can you get private healthcare treatment from in the UK?
There are any many hospitals and facilities in the UK that are directed solely towards private treatment, some as niche specialists, and others that are under major private health groups. Whilst there a large number of independent medical facilities in the UK (too many to list in one article), there are six major hospital providers that many people turn to for their private healthcare:
Originally founded in Nashville, US, HCA Healthcare UK is the largest private healthcare provider in the world, and now the largest provider of privately funded healthcare in the United Kingdom. They operate six hospitals in London, and have two outposts outside of it, The Christie Private Care hospital in Manchester and HCA UK at the Wimslow Hospital in Cheshire. As you might expect, their hospitals come well-equipped to deal with an array of medical conditions, and set up to deal with level 2 and level 3 adult intensive care units.
Nuffield is well known for its physical therapy offerings, with renowned physiotherapists, fitness and wellbeing centres. They have thirty-one hospitals across the UK, as well as 112 fitness and well-being clubs. They are a non-profit organization and the UK’s largest healthcare charity – with 94% of their hospitals judged good or excellent by national regulators, it’s common to see Nuffield as a covered private healthcare provider under most healthcare insurance policies.
After HCA Healthcare UK, Spire is the second largest provider of private healthcare in the country. Operating thirty-nine facilities across the UK, Spire works with a wide variety of treatments ranging from cosmetic, fertility, and orthopedic to specialist cancer care, and cardiac.
Ramsay Health specialists in surgery, rehabilitation and psychiatric care, offering a specialized service in hip and knee replacements, weight loss surgery and cosmetic surgery amongst other treatments.
Circle health was founded by doctors and managers in 2004 with the aim of providing cutting-edge private healthcare to its patients, and in December 2019, the group also purchased BMI Healthcare to create a national network of private hospitals. They offer a full range of treatments for an array of health issues such as physical rehabilitation, general surgery and general medicine.
There are an abundance of private hospitals and clinics in addition to the above groups that are run by smaller private practitioners, and which may be more suitable to you, your location and any particular medical condition. We strongly encourage you to ask your GP or research them individually in order to decide what private services could be best for you.
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The cost of diagnosis and treatment under the private healthcare system varies based on location, private hospital and medical condition. There are some resources online to help you get a rough idea of how much you might expect to pay, and depending on the condition, costs can range from a couple of hundred pounds to the tens of thousands. If you feel like the costs for private healthcare are too much to bear from your own pocket, there is the option of health insurance to provide some financial relief.
By purchasing a health insurance policy, you will be covered for a range of conditions across a wide choice of private medical facilities. The hospital lists do vary by provider, and in fact you can make your own choice as to what this list comprises, reducing it in order to make your insurance policy more cost-effective. At the same time, most policies should cover the major hospital providers mentioned above, such as Nuffield, Circle Health and Spire Healthcare. This is by no means guaranteed however, so it’s important to double-check your policy just in case.
If you do purchase an insurance policy, the cost you will be expected to bear should be no more than the excess you agree to pay for each claim. This will usually be in the form of a yearly excess: let’s say it is a £250 excess per annum, you would be expected to pay medical costs up to £250, after which your treatment costs will all be covered by your insurance policy.