Is private health insurance a better option than the NHS?

6 min read

Is private health insurance a better option than the NHS?
With the struggles of the NHS, more people have opted for private health insurance which has its own advantages and disadvantages
Private healthcare and health insurance may be on the rise in the UK, with concerns over issues like NHS wait times and lack of hospital beds. Private health insurance is seen as a way to access high-quality care without the drawbacks of public service use.

Do you need private health insurance?

It may seem like an obvious question but before taking out insurance you should already have a solid idea of whether you really need it or not. For instance, do you need certain treatments in a shorter timeframe than the NHS can realistically provide? Or do you need specialist treatment that you can’t get on the NHS? If this is the case, private healthcare may be a better option for you, if you need faster access to a GP or hospital services.

Benefits of private healthcare

There are a few upsides to private health insurance, which include a reduction in wait time, getting access to specialist referral, drugs and treatments that aren’t available on the NHS, and special treatments like physiotherapy which may also be offered with health insurance.
Another benefit is access to private hospitals and private rooms, allowing for rest and recovery in high quality facilities. Though in some cases you may also be able to access private patient units of NHS hospitals of your choice. Quick access to GPs is another positive of health insurance, which includes out-of-hours, 24/7 access and video consultation if needed.
Hospital ward

Benefits of the NHS

The NHS has a clear appeal, being free at the point of use for all British citizens, foreign nationals who have naturalised as British citizens and overseas nationals who have settled in the UK. The NHS covers a range of treatment from A&E treatment to urgent care and minor/major surgery.
Specialised treatments like physiotherapy can also be offered for individuals if deemed necessary and people gain access to local NHS hospitals, doctors and specialists at the point of need.

Challenges facing private healthcare Vs the NHS

The primary concern with private health insurance is in the costs, as general coverage may not be too expensive but costs for private treatment may be. Health insurance also doesn’t necessarily cover treatment for all issues, including organ transplants, pre-existing medical conditions and cosmetic surgery, which will need to be paid for out of insurance costs. This is why it’s important to check what is covered under private insurance, to avoid being surprised by certain things being excluded.
"Private health insurance may not be a viable option for many families"
Ironically, just like the NHS, access to other key health areas like dentistry may also not be covered and you may need to go to an independent dentist practice. Cost is a major barrier to entry and a potential concern for many with private health insurance, having to pay hundreds of pounds annually on average for coverage for just a single person. So, with the cost-of-living crisis and potentially needing to cover multiple family members, private health insurance may not be a viable option for many families.
The challenges facing the NHS are apparent, with understaffing issues affecting hospitals and trusts all over the UK, which in turn affects wait times and potential service levels. Patient satisfaction with the NHS of late is at its lowest level ever recorded, at around 24 per cent. With a persisting view that the NHS is underfunded by the government, there is patient frustration at lengthy wait times, struggles to get GP appointments and treatment backlogs.
Primary care services are free to all, both to British citizens and overseas nationals in the UK, however secondary services may come with a fee known as the immigration health surcharge. This fee is £1,035 a year for a regular UK Visa and £776 for students, though migrant NHS workers and asylum seekers and some other groups are exempt from paying the fee. The surcharge does not need to be paid along with a Visa application from outside of the UK which is for six months or less in duration.


Private health insurance has a few clear benefits and advantages over the NHS in wait times, access to GPs and access to specialised drugs not available in public healthcare. However, the drawbacks of taking out insurance also shouldn’t be overlooked, from prohibitive costs to certain conditions not being covered that will still need to be paid for out of pocket, costs for procedures can quickly add up.
Public and private healthcare are increasingly linked in recent times, with frustrations over the state of the NHS leading to people taking private healthcare. Though neither system is perfect, you should consider what is most appropriate for yourself and your family when you do need certain treatment or procedures.
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