Patient in private hospital bed receiving healthcare from doctor
HealthplanNHS vs Private Healthcare

NHS vs Private Healthcare

The National Health Service (NHS) was launched in the UK 70 years ago. Today, it has evolved to become the worlds’ largest publicly financed healthcare system, globally recognized for its affordability, service, and value. Since it provides quality and free healthcare, its services are in high demand. Many individuals have moved to private medical treatment. These individuals also utilize private health insurance to pay their costs. However, PMIs can be quite expensive. This post breaks down the differences between public and private healthcare to help you determine which one is best for you.

What is the annual NHS budget?

The annual budget of NHS England for 2020/2021 is set at £129.7 billion, and this figure excludes the £60 billion allocated for COVID-19. It is also lower than the forecasted amount by £0.2 billion. For 2021/2022, the budget will rise to £136.1 billion as per the five-year funding deal of 2018 and the trajectory established in the November 2020 Spending Review.

How widespread is private medical insurance?

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) reported that 1.7 million individuals in the United Kingdom had private medical insurance (PMI). In 2018/19, the NHS spent almost £159 billion, equating to £2,300 per person. It also accounts for 7.1% of the country’s GDP.

In its critical responsibility towards global health development, the UK assists eight middle-income countries in strengthening their health systems as they work towards universal health coverage. This is covered under the Prosperity Fund’s ‘Better Health Programme.’

Comparing the NHS and private Healthcare

To define the boundaries of the NHS and private healthcare, there are certain key features unique to both services, which are discussed below.


Waiting Times18+ weeksAlmost immediate access
ServicesLow ExpectationHigh Quality
Level of ComfortSharing a room and bathrooms with other patientsPrivate rooms with bathrooms
Hospitals, time and locationLimited optionsWide range
Niche drugs & treatmentLimited amount of resourcesAccess to cutting edge treatments/drugs
ChoiceGP operation, a GP for the meeting, a treatment hospitalHealth care counselors, therapists and hospitals
CostCompletely FreeBilled monthly
Claims ProcessGet a referral, then added on to the long waiting listGet a referral, contact an insurer, insurer authorises claim. Insurer pays hospital or consultant directly
AppointmentsAppointments set by the local hospital fundReception at a time and place that is convenient for you
ExtrasNot applicable, as it’s a free service.Worldwide Travel
Dental and Optical
Mental Health
Therapy Cover
Advanced Cancer Cover
Access to Luxury London Hospitals

Appointment and Waiting Times

Booking an appointment with your NHS GP might take anything from a few days to several weeks. The length of your wait will depend on how many other people are trying to make an appointment at the same time. Due to financial restrictions, non-emergency routine operations may take up to one year to be performed.

The wait times may differ from region to region. Though routine procedures are tough to clear in the waiting list, NHS care ensures that critical issues like cardiac arrests are attended immediately.

Private healthcare providers are likely to have greater resources, more flexibility, and fewer patients. As a result, waiting times are often significantly shorter. In addition, many health insurance policies include virtual GP consultations, which reduce wait times even further.


A key advantage of private healthcare is the ability to choose your own physicians, hospitals, and treatments. On the other hand, the NHS states that everyone they care for has the legal right to make decisions about the services they receive.

Level of Comfort

Both NHS and private health care should provide the same level of medical assistance, although private healthcare facilities can be more convenient and sophisticated.

While reduced wait times may be what draws individuals to private treatment, the comfort keeps them there. From a comfortable private room, optionally attached bathroom, increased visiting hours, more meal options to having the same consultant, private health care ensures the environment feels less clinical.

In the case of the NHS, you may be sent to a mixed ward with shared bathrooms and limited visiting hours. A staff member may visit you in place of your consultant.

Hospital, Time, and Location

When you opt for private healthcare, you have the option of selecting the hospital, dates and time for treatment, and a convenient location (hospital). It may take less than a week for a referral request and medical tests to be done.

The NHS provides a limited choice of hospitals. If you want to decide between the two based on choice, select the one that is flexible enough for your requirements.

Niche Drug Treatment

Certain treatments require expensive drugs which the NHS does not cover. On the other hand, private healthcare can fund them, and in these cases, the patient will need to opt for private healthcare. But this also is dependent on the type of private health insurance cover a patient holds and which treatments it offers.

Overall Treatment Costs

The NHS treatment is free for millions of people in the UK all year round, which is the major reason why many people continue using the service.

To use a private healthcare service, you have two options: to self-finance the incurred medical expenses or get a PMI. The cost of private health insurance varies and depends on the level and the number of additional options you select.

Although the level of treatment you receive from private healthcare or the NHS should not differ much because both are committed to providing each patient with the best possible care, there are some differences between the two.

Medical Negligence and Claims Process

Private doctors should provide the same level of excellent care, and negligence claims are only filed against NHS doctors in a small number of instances.

Clinical negligence lawsuits brought against private hospitals providers are comparable in number to those brought against the NHS. A major difference between the two is that in the event of a medical error in the NHS, the medical professional will be sued for their negligence. The claim will go against the hospital trust because the event occurred within their hospitals.

Public and private hospitals may both see cases of medical errors. Various variables can lead to a medical error, both in the NHS and privately. There are also specific elements that place unique demands on each. For instance, overflowing waiting lists and many current patients lead to treatment delays, misdiagnosis of illness, and inadequate clinical services on the NHS.

In the private hospital setting, fewer patients are present, giving the consultant the advantage of time. However, the patient is usually attended to by a Registered Medical Officer (RMO). These individuals are often in the initial stages of their careers.

They cannot be expected to thoroughly understand the many diseases, symptoms, and problems that might develop among their patients without the consultant present. They might fail to identify when a patient requires assistance or when their consultant should be contacted.

Can you go private on the NHS?

The NHS strives to provide all patients with a choice of where and by whom they are treated as part of the patient choice strategy. Previously, this meant a choice of NHS facilities, but it has lately expanded to include private hospitals and clinics that can provide the same care but at a lower cost.

There are certain instances under which private treatment is provided on the NHS, such as specialized treatment or intensive care, development of complications, or consultant advice. The NHS is also well-prepared for medical emergencies in terms of care and equipment.

The level of care and treatment provided to both an NHS patient and a private patient are similar. Therefore, the primary advantages of receiving private treatment within the NHS are:

  • 24/7 Accessibility: NHS hospitals will offer a comprehensive range of services, including specialists and emergency.
  • Using Insurance to Pay: You have the option of using health insurance or paying for your hospital treatment directly.
  • Supporting NHS: This implies that money set aside for private care will be redirected to NHS hospitals, benefiting all patients.
  • Affordability: Private care at an NHS hospital is low-priced.
  • Medical Team: You’ll have access to a medical team that includes your consultant.

Is Private Healthcare better than the NHS?

The answer to whether private health insurance is worthwhile or not depends on what your requirements are because although patients, doctors, and hospitals differ, the care and dedication needed to become and remain a medical professional are the same for both NHS and the private sector.

The NHS and private health insurance also function together –the latter may not cover all medical requirements, and the NHS extends help through the current lists and in situations requiring emergency care. An example is the NHS Choice Framework, whereby patients can select the private hospital of their choice under certain conditions.

When it comes to medical errors, a comparison between the NHS and private healthcare should not take place. The main reason is that any medical professional can make medical mistakes in any medical facility, regardless of whether it is public, private, or an amalgamation of both.

Instead, the correct measure is that both private and NHS physicians should focus on learning from their mistakes and taking preventative steps to guarantee that these incidents are minimized or never occur at all.