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Should I choose private health insurance vs NHS care?

Many of us are lucky enough to have never needed to use private healthcare services due to the great work of the NHS. However, the NHS has been struggling recently with increased demands following the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning many people have considering turning to private healthcare.

The main worry for most people thinking about private healthcare is the cost which is where policies like private health insurance can be most useful. With private health cover, you can get help to cover the cost of the medical treatments you need, gain access to top quality specialists – and often there are some attractive extra perks and discounts thrown in.

What you will need to consider is if private health insurance feels right for you or if you would prefer to stick with NHS treatment. It’s key to remember you don’t actually have to choose one or the other and often people will mix and match private and NHS care to best suit their own situation at the time.

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60-Second Summary – Why should I choose private health insurance UK vs NHS care?

Private health insurance is a simple and usually cost-effective way to minimise the expense of private healthcare. The NHS does a brilliant job overall,  but has faced difficulties lately which is where private treatment has become an appealing alternative.

  • Most NHS treatments are free (though you may have to pay for certain costs such as prescription charges or dental appointments). It’s valid to decide that health insurance isn’t worth the cost for you and your family right now.
  • Private health insurance provides a way to receive faster diagnosis and top quality care without needing to pay out thousands of £s to self-fund your medical treatments.
  • Most private health insurance providers will offer extra perks and incentives to attract new customers and keep existing ones such as gym discounts, free food and drink offers, free cinema tickets and more.
  • If you want to find out more about private health insurance and which insurers could be a good option, you can get free, friendly advice from a health insurance expert.

Private health insurance will cost more than NHS treatment, as generally the NHS will be free when you use the services (free at point of entry). We all pay towards NHS services in taxes, but there won’t normally be a fee for specific NHS treatments when you go to your GP or local hospital. The main exceptions to this would be:

  • Dental treatments and care
  • Opticians services
  • Prescriptions

Though you would need to pay monthly for private health insurance, these policies can be cost-effective and will certainly cost less than trying to pay for private treatments out of your own pocket. Other benefits that are included with private health insurance includes:

  • Faster diagnosis
  • Access to top quality private hospitals and specialists
  • Decreased waiting times for treatments
  • Comfortable surroundings when receiving treatment
  • Flexible levels of cover to suit different budgets
  • Access to services like 24/7 online GP appointments
  • Option to add extra benefits like dental or overseas cover

The amount you would pay for cover will vary from person to person, as the prices set by insurers will be based on factors like:

  • Your age when you apply
  • Your post code
  • If you have claimed before (if you’re renewing an existing policy)
  • How much excess you will pay when claiming
  • Level of cover needed
  • If you want to add your partner or child(ren) to your cover
  • If you want to add extra benefits

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If you’re thinking about having private medical treatment, it’s a good idea to think about the pros and cons first. You should consider if you can afford to be treated privately (health insurance can help with the cost) or if you would prefer to stick with the NHS for the treatment you need.

Private healthcare pros and cons

ProCon
Can often be seen by a specialist within a week from referralPrivate medical treatment can be expensive so you would need to budget for these costs
Top quality specialist care is available including extra benefits like private roomsSkills and knowledge can be similar between NHS and private hospitals (though private facilities will usually be more modern/comfortable)

NHS treatment pros and cons

ProCon
Free at point of use so should be affordable for everyoneYou may have to pay for certain services e.g. dentists or opticians
Good standard of care available generally and provides emergency care (A&E)Longer waiting lists for treatment (many patients now wait 18 or more weeks)

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About the NHS

The NHS is world renowned for providing free medical treatments to people in the United Kingdom, and outstanding care. It is also common knowledge that the NHS is more stretched than we have ever had in the past which is getting more difficult to resolve.

Cancer treatment is one of the biggest challenges in the NHS and one of the main reasons why people are turning to private health insurance for their own protection.

YES – You can always opt to use the NHS for your medical issues and any treatments that you might need. The NHS offers free healthcare to UK residents which can be appealing for those with a limited budget who can’t afford to pay for insurance or private treatments.

The main issue with the NHS at the moment is the ever increasing waiting times for treatments. This has led to many consumers in the UK turning to private healthcare and policies like private health insurance as an alternative or helpful add on to the treatment the NHS provides.

health insurance and NHS waiting times banner

Private health insurance works by helping to cover the cost of private medical care. You pay monthly or annually for your policy and in return receive support in paying for the cost of treatment with private specialists.

Everyone will have different opinions on if it’s worth buying private health insurance and whether it’s better than relying solely on NHS care. There are some definite perks though to choosing to buy private health insurance like:

  • Fast diagnosis for medical issues and quicker referrals for specialist treatment
  • High quality private medical facilities and equipment
  • Access to drugs and treatments that aren’t available yet on the NHS
  • Extra discounts and benefits in partnership with top brands (depends on the insurer you choose

Our Health Insurance Partners .

YES – The NHS won’t turn away patients who have private health insurance policies and it’s possible to mix and match your care to use both private and NHS services. This can be useful in situations where you’re concerned about a quick diagnosis but don’t mind using NHS services after this (or the other way around).

Private health insurance also won’t provide cover for emergency care (e.g. A&E visits) or pre-existing or chronic medical conditions, so you would have to use the NHS in these situations.

You might be wondering if you can use private health insurance and NHS treatment in the same medical treatment plan. This is a question we hear a lot and the NHS have released guidance about how things work for if you wanted to use NHS and private care for the same medical issue.

The key things you need to know:

  • You won’t need to pay for NHS treatment (even if you are already paying for private treatments) unless for something you would usually pay for e.g. prescriptions
  • The NHS won’t pay towards the cost of the private treatments you are receiving alongside your NHS care
  • The NHS needs you to have ‘a clear separation between your private and NHS treatment’ – put simply, you should ideally receive the private care at a different location and timing where possible

More information – NHS – If I pay for private treatment, how will my NHS care be affected?

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This is entirely up to you, but it is something worth thinking about if you would prefer to use private services for the medical treatments you need. Private health insurance can significantly cut the cost for private care and offer extra support.

If you’re not sure if private health insurance is for you or how it works, you can speak to one of our skilled health insurance experts for free support and advice.

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What is the average cost of health insurance UK?

One of the top questions that people ask about health insurance is, ‘how much does it cost on average per month?’. According to recent research taken in 2023, the average cost of a health insurance is £86 per month for a standard personal protection policy. Health insurance policies can vary dramatically based on your age and the type of cover that you need, as well as which insurance provider you choose.

Most core health insurance policies will provide a similar level of protection and coverage for private medical treatments. You can tailor your health insurance policy to suit your needs and your budget by changing the benefits and levels of cover that you receive.

Is health insurance worth it?

Health insurance is the same as most other personal protection policies that you can buy, it is down to your own personal preference and attitude to risk. The other major issue is whether you can afford to pay for health insurance every month because it can be expensive.

If you ever need to claim on your health insurance policy then the benefits can be life changing and even lifesaving. The medical treatments and care that is provided by the NHS in the UK is among the best in the world, especially for chronic illness. Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that the NHS is struggling to meet demand and that the levels of private medical treatment are generally far superior to public health treatments.

Example: If you needed knee surgery then you would have to wait for months or even years on the NHS, whereas private health insurance will give you access to better treatment, leading specialists, and within weeks usually. Rehabilitation and therapies cover that are also provided by most health insurance policies can be invaluable, especially if you are self-employed for example.

Is private health insurance better than the NHS?

Currently, the biggest issue with the NHS is the waiting times for any consultations and access to treatments, because of how stretched its resources are. The NHS provides some of the best care in the world for chronic illnesses and diseases, such as diabetes, MS, epilepsy, and asthma.

Health insurance is designed to complement and support the treatment that you can receive on the National Health Service, as well as giving you access to specialists for other medical issues such as musculoskeletal issues and cancer treatment, which are also the top reasons for claims on health insurance cover.

The main issues with NHS treatment currently and reasons for people taking out health insurance:

  • Long waiting lists for consultations, results and treatment
  • Overcrowded hospitals
  • Lack of beds
  • Shortages of NHS nurses and doctors
  • Some treatments not available (especially cancer treatments)
  • Specialists only available on private health insurance
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Health Insurance vs NHS - iam|INSURED

What is the best health insurance UK?

There are lots of different policy options when considering health insurance as well as your choice of several main insurance providers. The other consideration is whether you don’t take out health insurance and opt for receiving treatment on the NHS or paying for treatment yourself as and when you need it.

We’re constantly reviewing the top health insurance companies in the UK to find out which provide the best service, value, products and treatments. Based on our most recent reviews we suggest the following as the best health insurance UK 2023:

  1. Aviva Healthcare Solutions (Trustpilot score: 4.1 out of 5.0)
  2. BUPA Health Insurance (Trustpilot score: 4.0 out of 5.0)
  3. Vitality Personal Healthcare (Trustpilot score: 3.9 out of 5.0)
  4. Exeter Health+ (Trustpilot score: 4.4 out of 5.0)
  5. AXA PPP (Trustpilot score: 4.1 out of 5.0)
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Best Private Health Insurance 2023 - iam|INSURED

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