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Critical illness cover turns 40!

This week, we’re wishing critical illness cover a massive happy birthday! The World’s first critical illness insurance policy was launched back on the 6th of August 1983 and has been protecting families across the UK ever since.

These policies work hard to support your family financially if you or your partner becomes seriously ill. You can receive a cash lump sum to cover important expenses such as mortgage payments, cost of living and more.

We know that not everyone is an expert in critical illness cover, so we’re going to explain a bit more about how it works.

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Critical illness insurance (better known as critical illness cover) is an insurance policy which pays out a cash lump sum on diagnosis of serious illness. The illness needs to be covered within the terms and conditions of your policy and every insurer will cover a different number of conditions.

There are also options to add on benefits like enhanced cover, children’s cover and more. This allows you to build your own policy and add or remove anything that suits you.  

Critical illness cover is also a widely available product, being sold by TOP UK INSURERS such as:

Insurance providerAmount of conditions covered (core cover)Amount of conditions covered (enhanced cover)
AIG4550 (plus pregnancy cover)
Legal & General3376
Royal London73N/A
Scottish Widows40N/A
Vitality114143 (Serious Illness Cover 2x) 174 (Serious Illness Cover 3x)

Here we’ve got a full breakdown of the history of critical illness cover and just how far these policies have come.


Critical illness cover was first developed in South Africa by an insurer called Crusader Life. The plan for these policies was to help support patients who survived operations that ultimately left them with life changing conditions.

It took only two years for these policies to spread to the UK market. Cannon Lincoln was the UK insurer that pushed for developing these products within the UK. At this point policies worked as a 25% pay out from life insurance policies (if diagnosed with 1 of 4 key conditions). The conditions covered at the time were:

  • Cancer
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Coronary bypass surgery

The biggest moment for critical illness cover was in 1988 when Abbey Life launched their first critical illness insurance policy. This policy marked the first time a provider would pay out 100% of the sum assured (amount of cover).


When the 90s hit more providers started to bring out critical illness policies. This was led by insurers like Standard Life and Norwich Union (now best known as Aviva).

At this point, most policies would only cover between 15 to 20 medical conditions. This has expanded massively since then, with companies like Vitality now paying out for over 100 conditions.

In 1999, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) released the first critical illness definitions to make sure providers had to follow a strict set of standards. The aim of this was to help protect consumers and make sure fair practices were in place.


From the year 2000 onwards, insurers have been constantly working to outdo each other when it comes to critical illness cover. Every insurer wants to be the best on the market which means more and more innovative products being produced.

Vitality introduced the idea of partial payments. This allows you to claim part of your benefit for less serious conditions and keep your cover in place in case anything else happens to you in the future.

The amount of critical illness claims being paid out has continued to rise over the years. Most providers now will pay out for at least 90% of the claims submitted.

Though every insurer covers range of different medical conditions, there are 36 key conditions that most insurers will cover you for.

These conditions are:

1. Cancer19. Hepatitis
2. Heart Attack20. Coronary Artery Disease
3. Stroke21. Encephalitis
4. Kidney Failure22. Head Trauma
5. Multiple Sclerosis23. Medullary Cystic Disease
6. Parkinson’s Disease24. Brain Surgery
7. Alzheimer’s disease25. Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery
8. Brain tumour (Benign)26. Lung Disease (end-stage)
9. Paralysis (limbs)27. Surgery of the Aorta
10. Muscular dystrophy28. Terminal Illness
11. Third Degree Burns29. Loss of Independence
12. HIV30. Major Organ Transplant
13. Cardiomyopathy31. Primary Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension
14. Loss of Speech32. Severe Coronary Artery Disease
15. Chronic Aplastic Anaemia33. Heart Valve Surgery
16. Blindness (Permanent)34. Angioplasty
17. Bacterial Meningitis35. Coma
18. Liver Failure (end-stage)36. Deafness (Permanent)

How to buy critical illness insurance

There are so many different options for critical illness cover that are now available, which means it can be tricky to know what will be best for you.

We’d always suggest doing a bit of research before choosing your policy, to ensure you’re choosing the cover that works best for you.

Our team have years of expertise in critical illness insurance and so know exactly what questions you might have and how to find the right policy. If you’re not sure what your best options are, we’re always here to help.

Here we have some more helpful guides to help you find out more about what critical illness cover is and how it works.

Useful resources

Citizen’s Advice – Critical illness insurance

Association of British Insurers (ABI) – Consumer guide for critical illness cover

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