Your questions about private healthcare

4 minute read time.
Your questions about private healthcare

We know that the NHS is facing many challenges right now. The covid pandemic, cost of living crisis and staff shortages have overwhelmed NHS services and caused record-high waiting times.

This is having an effect on people worried about cancer or living with cancer.  People worry about cancer for many different reasons. Waiting for tests or results, or waiting to start cancer treatments, is an anxious time for everyone. Because of this, some people are looking into paying for tests or treatment rather than waiting.

Our support line has seen a recent increase in the number of calls asking about private healthcare and what this involves. In response, our cancer information nurse Samantha Chilton looks at some of the frequently asked questions people have about private healthcare.

What is private healthcare?

Private health care is medical tests and treatment which you pay for. This is different from the NHS, where tests and treatments are free. Private healthcare is given in independent hospitals or clinics that are not part of the NHS.

How would I pay for private healthcare?

You can pay for private health care through insurance or your own money (also called self-funding).

What is private medical insurance (PMI)?

Private medical insurance is an insurance policy that covers the costs of private healthcare. Some people organise their own insurance, and some have medical insurance through their job. This insurance pays for some or all of your medical bills.

PMI comes with different types of cover and prices. It may not cover the treatment of health conditions you have at the time you buy your cover. This is sometimes called a ‘pre-existing condition’. It is important to check the terms and conditions of your policy so you know what is covered.

How would I pay for my own tests or treatment (or self-fund)?

Private hospitals may offer a ‘package price’, which includes several healthcare costs as one fee. Or you may be charged for each part of your tests or treatment. Some UK private hospitals offer payment schemes where you pay for your medical costs in instalments.

It is important that you understand the full terms and conditions for self-funding before having any tests or treatment.

The Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) is an independent organisation which gives information about private insurance, self-funding, private hospitals and consultants. For more information, go to PHIN.

What are the benefits of private health care?

Choosing private health care can:

  • help you get seen quicker for tests and scans
  • allow you to talk to specialist doctors quicker
  • allow you to choose a hospital or doctor or appointment time
  • give you access to some treatments and procedures that aren’t available on the NHS.

And the disadvantages?

Choosing private health care:

  • can be expensive
  • may sometimes lead to extra costs, for example, if you have to stay in hospital for longer than planned
  • can mean that some cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy, may not be available. These need expensive specialised equipment.

Do I need a GP referral?

The British Medical Association (BMA) say it is better for patients to be referred by their GP. Your GP knows your medical history and can advise you if a referral is necessary.

If you are considering taking out private medical insurance, most policies need a GP referral, so check with your insurer first.

If you are self-funding and you need to see a specialist, your GP can write a referral letter. They may charge you for this.

How do I choose a private healthcare provider or doctor?

If you have private medical insurance, your insurance provider will have a list of private hospitals and treatment centres for you to choose from.

If you are self-funding, then you can usually select where you would like to go.

How much does private healthcare cost?

The cost of private health care varies. This may depend on:

  • the tests or treatment you need
  • where you live
  • which provider you use.

It is important to know the costs of any treatment or procedures before you start. There may be extra costs such as private prescriptions, physiotherapy or a follow-up scan.

How long will I wait to get an appointment?

With private healthcare, you can usually avoid long waiting lists. It is best to speak with the health provider or consultant about waiting times.

If I go private, can I still have NHS care?

You can access both private and NHS care. For example, if you pay for a diagnostic test privately, you can still have treatment through the NHS. Talk with your GP or private consultant for more information.

The NHS website has some useful information about having NHS and private care.

Where can I get further information and support?