Find out how private health insurance works and who the best providers are according to both their customers and our private healthcare experts.
Private medical treatment services in the UK can be accessed by paying out of your own pocket (self-pay) or via private health insurance.
Private health insurance is a good option for those looking to protect themselves from future medical conditions, but as a new policy usually won’t cover existing medical concerns, it won’t help if you’re stuck on a waiting list.
When looking at health insurance, take your time and make sure you understand what you’re buying, as decisions you make today could affect what your policy covers in years to come.
You can often save £100s by comparing policies, and usually, it’s best to do this with the help of an experienced broker, who’ll help you understand the choices on offer.
If you need medical treatment today, health insurance won’t cover the cost, and we recommend you head to this guide, where we explain more about self-paying for private consultations and surgery.
Private health insurance is designed to pay for private medical treatment of future medical conditions. However, what is and isn’t covered by your policy is often dictated by how much you pay, your insurer and your medical history.
All health insurance policies, even the most basic, will cover the cost of having “acute” medical conditions treated in a private hospital where you are admitted for a day or more. Chronic conditions (like asthma and diabetes) are always excluded.
More comprehensive private health insurance policies usually include a level of outpatient cover, which gives you access to specialist consultations, tests and scans leading to a diagnosis. Without outpatient cover, you’d either need to receive your diagnosis via the NHS or self-pay for private consultations and tests.
This guide explains the details you need to know about private health insurance, including how it works, what to look out for, and who the best providers are.
Customer service is a vital aspect of any service, but even more so with private health insurance. Unlike other types of insurance, where the chance of you claiming and needing to speak to your insurer is relatively low, there's a high probability you will claim on your health insurance at some point. Yes, you should also factor other things in when comparing health insurance providers, but customer reviews should be high on your list of considerations. Here is our regularly updated table of health insurers' customer reviews:
*This company collects reviews for numerous services, not just private medical insurance; this score and count is based on all their reviews. To better understand their performance for health insurance, visit their profile on TrustPilot and filter using the word "health".
Here are our top 9 private health insurance companies in the UK for 2023 based on our private healthcare experts' views and customer reviews:
At the end of July 2023, WPA bid farewell to their 14-year-old Flexible Health policies and launched a new product called Complete Health.
Speaking with WPA, they tell us that Complete Health is designed to make it easier for people to create a policy around their specific requirements, and they're offering considerable flexibility to do that.
Perhaps the most significant change is that WPA now offers a choice between "Pooled Risk" or a traditional no-claims discount. From what we understand, Pooled Risk works similarly to a community rating, where the losses of the whole pool affect your renewal premiums, not your own claims. A no-claims discount is new for WPA, who have recognised that some prefer this option from their private healthcare.
WPA Complete Health offers core benefits such as inpatient and day-patient treatment in most private hospitals around the UK, £250 towards outpatient consultations, and cover for complex scans, such as MRI/CT/PET. You can also access their remote GP service and an NHS Hospital cash benefit.
Everything after that, including cancer cover, is optional, meaning you can tailor your policy around your personal requirements.
WPA has one of the highest ratings of any private healthcare providers in the UK market we've reviewed, scoring an impressive 4.7 out of 5 on Trustpilot from 2,437 reviews as of 24th November 2023.
If you'd like to know more about WPA Complete Health, please click here to read our full, detailed review.
The Exeter Health+ is among the top private medical insurance policies we've reviewed and is undoubtedly worth your consideration if you're looking for a policy. Their private healthcare policies and the company stand out from both a comprehensiveness and customer service perspective.
The Exeter is one of the fairest in how claims affect your no-claims discount. Whereas with other insurers, claims even as little as a few hundred pounds will see you fall back by three discount levels, with The Exeter, you'd need to claim over £2,001 for that to happen.
Earlier in 2023, The Exeter launched their new "Guided" option, which has seen them become one of the most competitive on price. Their client reviews speak for themselves; we only hear good things when we talk to brokers.
The Exeter collects its health insurance review feedback via Trustpilot; as of November 2023, it has an impressive score of 4.4 out of 5 from 744 reviews as of 24th November 2023.
While they have yet to get as many independent reviews as other health insurance providers detailed here, the score is on par or, if not better, than most we've reviewed.
If you'd like to know more about The Exeter Health+ please contact us or visit their website.
Bupa offers two types of private health insurance, Treatment and Care, their low-cost product and Comprehensive. This post is dedicated to the best private health insurance, so we will concentrate on their flagship policy.
Bupa is one of the few health insurance companies we've reviewed that will allow you to get direct support for cancer without needing to see a GP first. With Bupa Direct Access, one of Bupa's advisers will discuss your symptoms with you and, if required, refer you directly to a specialist.
Bupa also doesn't have an age restriction for new customers, with others not accepting applicants after their 65th or 70th birthdays. Finally, therapies and mental health coverage are included as standard, albeit only up to your outpatient limits.
Bupa has collected some 21,154 reviews (24th November 2023) on Trustpilot and has a 4.1 out of 5 stars rating. While impressive and very good, that score isn't quite as high as other insurance providers we feature, which indicates a slightly lower level of satisfaction among its customers.
Aviva's leading private health insurance product is “Healthier Solutions”, and it's what we would describe as a comprehensive policy. It gives you access to a network of hundreds of hospitals and health clinics across the UK as both an inpatient and outpatient.
Several things stand out about Aviva's health insurance compared to some of the companies we've reviewed. Firstly, Aviva offers a "protectable" no claims discount to minimise the effect of claims against your renewal cost.
Aviva has collected over 30,900 independent reviews on Trustpilot and has a 4.0 out of 5 stars, rated “Great”. We should point out that these reviews aren't specifically for their private healthcare.
Firstly, while Axa's core health insurance policy doesn't include certain things, such as outpatient cover, it can be added to your policy for an additional fee. Some may see this as an advantage, as ultimately, it gives you more control over what's included. With Axa's core product, you get access to inpatient treatment and day-patient private treatment at over 250 hospitals across the UK, alongside various additional benefits. Needless to say, they've stacked up well in our health insurance review.
Axa Health has collected 8,945 reviews as of 24th November 2023 on Trustpilot with a score of 4.2 out of 5.0.
Freedom market their Elite Health insurance as flexible private health insurance tailored to your requirements and budget. Their core cover is comprehensive, giving you an excellent foundation to go on and build your healthcare plan.
Perhaps the most significant difference between Freedom's private health insurance and the others we've reviewed is that they offer a renewal price guarantee to all new customers. Whether you make a claim or not, your premium will not rise in the first two years. Finally, they are the sole health insurance company in the UK that doesn't set your monthly premiums based on your postcode; this is especially useful for families living in traditionally expensive areas such as London.
Freedom Health Insurance currently has a rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars via the reviews platform Feefo. Reviews in the past year cite that Freedom's team is "extremely helpful," "so efficient," and "very quick to respond". However, it has to be said that the number of reviews they've collected (157) is far less than others in the market, primarily as they only sell health insurance and therefore have a smaller client base.
It's easy to see why people are switching to Vitality with a very competitive price point and a five-star Defaqto rating. Vitality changed the market for the better when they entered it, and today, they still lead the way in innovation.
What sets Vitality apart is its commitment to providing cover when you need it, encouraging healthy living, and rewarding you for keeping in shape and looking after yourself.
Unique to Vitality is a 10% discount for all new customers if you haven't required any hospital treatment or specialist advice in the three years before your plan starts. This discount is brilliant for people that come to Vitality with a clean bill of health, and as we say, no other company offers this.
Vitality collects feedback via Trustpilot, where it has over 33,708 customer reviews at the time of writing, with a score of 4.1 out of 5 stars.
Saga's flagship private medical insurance policies are their "Super" series. "Super" is their most comprehensive, with "Super 4 Week Wait" and "Super 6 Week Wait" offering the same benefits, but only if the NHS waiting time for the treatment you need is more than four or six weeks.
Ok, this is where it gets a little more complicated, as Axa PPP Healthcare is responsible for claims handling, which is the most critical aspect of health insurance; it's unlikely you'll speak to or hear from Saga much outside of renewal time. So, do we look at Axa's reviews, Saga's or both?
We'll go with the latter and look at both, but also factor into your decision-making that Saga offers many different products that aren't related to insurance. To find health insurance-specific reviews, add a filter to Trustpilot with the word "Health", and you should be presented with a more focused view.
Saga currently has a rating of 4.4 on Trustpilot from over 38,000 reviews, and Axa has around 8,945 with a Trustpilot score of 4.2 as of November 2023.
There may well be a change to who underwrites Saga's health insurance policies soon. As we know more and it becomes public knowledge, we'll share it here.
National Friendly's private health insurance plan is called Optimum. They promise a fair and friendly approach to medical insurance; on the whole, we agree that they deliver on that promise. Their straightforward policy information details what's covered and what's not, and they go further than any other to keep your premiums at a manageable level.
One of the biggest draws of a National Friendly UK health insurance is that any claims you make won't affect your renewal premiums in the first five years. The only increases you can expect will be due to your age and medical inflation, not your personal claims history. National Friendly also stack up well when it comes to their hospital list. They offer one of the most comprehensive lists on the market, with very few exclusions.
National Friendly, like many of the other health insurance companies, collect independent reviews via Trustpilot and currently enjoys an outstanding score of 4.6 out of 5 stars, one of the highest of any provider we've reviewed. However, that is only from 180 reviews, making them perhaps less representative of their service than other providers with thousands.
myTribe's ratings for UK health insurance policies are calculated based on a specific list of policy features alongside other factors, such as customer service levels and reviews, clarity of information, attitude to claims and more. Here is a list of some of the key elements we consider:
If you have had your fill of reading but still want to know more about how health insurance works, please watch our video titled "How to choose the best private health insurance". In the video, we explain things you need to be aware of and what we'd suggest is the best way to find and buy a health insurance policy.
In this part of our guide we cover some of the core questions people have and explain some of the subtleties you should look out for when comparing private healthcare providers.
Generally speaking, you can expect all of the following benefits from a health insurance policy:
Private health insurance covers the costs associated with treating acute medical conditions, meaning those which, generally speaking, are curable. Chronic diseases are excluded, as are pre-existing conditions you've suffered from in the past five years. While there are many benefits of health insurance, there are limitations too, and it's not designed to replace the NHS but work alongside it.
Even the most basic policies will cover the cost of being treated in a private hospital where you require a bed for a day or overnight. However, you'll need to be diagnosed via the NHS first before receiving your treatment privately with entry-level policies.
Comprehensive policies typically include outpatient cover, often limited to a monetary value per year. With these policies, all you need is a referral from your GP, and then everything from then onwards will take privately.
All providers and their policies will be different, so take your time when choosing the right one for you. We recommend that you always speak to a qualified broker before deciding as they understand all of the policies and can provide you with individual advice.
If you're looking for a lower cost policy, read our recently updated guide to cheap health insurance in the UK.
While comprehensive policies will cover numerous private healthcare treatment and diagnosis options, you can also look to enhance your cover with a range of extras; typically including:
All private healthcare insurance companies will have some exclusions, and it's always best to refer to your policy documentation to see what yours excludes. However, generally speaking, you can expect the following to be excluded on most policies:
Please note: There are some circumstances where specific exclusions may be covered. For example, some insurers may contribute or cover the cost of cosmetic surgery, which is required due to an operation. If you have questions, please speak to your broker or the insurer or review their policy documentation.
In January 2023, we obtained over 1000 quotes from the top health insurance companies for fictional people of varying ages living in different locations across the UK. The following table shows the research results, with the average cost for a comprehensive policy with the six top health insurers in the UK.
*These are illustrative quotes obtained from the insurers' websites in January 2023. We opted for a policy which we deemed comprehensive, with inpatient and outpatient cover. It had a minimum of £1000 outpatient cover, a £250 excess (or as close as possible), and cover for alternative therapies. Mental health, routine dental and optical and travel cover were all excluded. The price you pay will differ based on numerous factors.
All health insurers tend to push similar information about their policies, often focusing on things such as cancer cover, mental health cover and outpatient limits. But there are some lesser-known differences which you should pay close attention to, as they will affect you should you make a claim. Here's a quick round-up of some of those subtleties.
Approximately half of the best private health insurance providers we've reviewed will increase your premiums at renewal if you make a claim, but that isn't always the case. Most common among the smaller providers is a "community-rated" approach to claims, meaning that it's the claims of all of their members that affect your renewal premium, not yours. Of course, this can be seen as a benefit and a disadvantage, but bearing in mind many of the insurers offering this are owned by their members, not shareholders, you'd like to think they do it for positive reasons.
The most significant outlier to either of these approaches is National Friendly, which won't factor your or other members' claims into your renewal premiums for the first five years. That's not to say your premiums won't increase as you age and the cost of private treatment goes up; it's just claims won't have an impact in the short term.
With most health insurers, where you live in the UK plays a significant role in the cost of your policy. You can expect to pay more if you live in a big city, with likely more expensive hospitals. Equally, if you happen to live in an area that has a high-claim rate, that can increase the cost of your policy too. However, some providers don't adjust prices that much based on your postcode (National Friendly), and there's even one that doesn't change them at all (Freedom). So, if you happen to live in a big city, such as London, where the cost of being treated privately is inherently more, one of these providers might be a good fit, assuming everything else fits your requirements.
If you've had private health insurance for several years, you'll be familiar with the restrictions on your policy relating to the hospitals you can choose from should you need treatment. However, it's easily overlooked for anyone new to health insurance, and we think it's something you should bear in mind. Some health insurers such as WPA, Freedom and National Friendly give you access to pretty much any private hospital in the UK, bar some very expensive ones in central London. While you can pay extra to expand your hospital list with the other insurers, if you don't know you're restricted and that not all providers restrict as much as others, you could run the risk of only learning this key difference when you make a claim.
Another thing to be mindful of is whether your chosen policy has any restrictions in respect to who can treat you. The biggest health insurers, Aviva, Bupa, Axa and Vitality, all operate what's known as "Guided Consultant lists", which effectively means you will be limited to a pool of consultants and specialists. There are two potential downsides to "guided consultants". Firstly, if there is a specific consultant you want to treat you, perhaps based on their reputation in the field, they may not be included in your insurers "pool". Secondly, as you're effectively reducing the number of consultants and specialists you can access, you run the risk of having slightly longer waiting times for treatment than if you had access to any consultant in the UK. Several smaller providers don't restrict your consultant choice, namely WPA, National Friendly, and Freedom.
We should point out that all of the providers offer the option to remove "guided consultants", which will increase the cost of your policy. There is a flips ide, of course, which we are sure insurers will argue; opting for guided consultants usually reduces the cost of your policy.
Next is what each provider is willing to pay for specific treatments, with all of them having an extensive list of procedures with associated maximums. While a critical benefit of health insurance is that it covers the cost of being treated privately, it's perhaps less known that you aren't always covered in full! It's usually only at the point of claim that you'll come to learn about "maximum procedure fees", but we'd recommend that it's something you research and speak to your broker about before you take out a policy.
Health insurance gives you access to private healthcare treatment options should become unwell, but is it actually worth it and do you need it? Strictly speaking, none of us needs private health insurance, as we have the NHS in the UK, and they do an amazing job with the resources available to them. However, at the time of writing, the NHS continues to suffer from record-breaking waiting lists, not just for non-urgent operations but for cancer care too.
As highlighted in a recent article from The Guardian, NHS waiting times for cancer care in England are now the longest on record, alongside countless other types of urgent care. That’s worrying of course, and for many, is the primary reason they take out private medical insurance. By taking out a policy, even a relatively basic one, you give you and your family a head start should the worse happen and one of your fall ill. Take out a comprehensive policy and everything after an initial GP referral will take place privately, and waiting times are significantly less in the private sector.
So, to answer the original question, yes, health insurance is worth it and it’s becoming increasingly valuable while the NHS tries to overcome the current backlog.
We hope that you’ve found this guide useful and informative. Please bear in mind that everything we’ve detailed is meant to inform and none of our information should be taken as advice. We always recommend that you speak to an independent health insurance broker before deciding on a policy as they can help you configure your policy, provide answer any questions you might have and get you the best deal. To compare health insurance quotes, please click the button below.
Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.
Based on over 1000 quotes obtained in January, we can share the current cost of private health insurance for a typical comprehensive policy:
*Average based on quotes from eight leading health insurers in 10 UK cities. We opted for a comprehensive policy, with a £250 excess (or as close as possible), outpatient cover limited to a maximum of £1,500 in claims per year, and we included therapies cover. We defaulted to each provider's standard hospital list and used moratorium underwriting. Mental health cover, dental, optical and travel cover were all excluded. Prices are accurate as of January 2023. Please note these prices are purely illustrative; the cost of your policy will be different.
Axa and Bupa are two different private medical insurers in the UK, and while they provide similar services, they're not the same.
Private medical insurance is becoming increasingly valuable due to the NHS's record-breaking waiting lists. Having private health insurance ensures that you can receive fast treatment and bypass the NHS backlogs.
There are a couple of ways you can buy health insurance in the UK. Firstly, you could research all of the providers and policies and then contact them directly for quotes. The second way, which we and many others do, is to speak to a health insurance broker who can perform a market review for you and help you select the best policy for the best price. Brokers are paid by the insurers, so the service they provide to you is free, and you’ll get the same price going through one as you would going direct.
Each insurer defines an acute condition slightly differently. Still, the general definition is an illness that is curable through medical intervention. Acute conditions can include injuries, but only those that are likely to respond quickly to treatment. As a reminder, most acute conditions will be covered by private health insurance policies.
WPA are our experts' top health insurance company for 2023, with excellent policies and outstanding customer service.
A chronic condition is defined as one that isn't curable and will probably require monitoring and management instead of medical treatment. Two examples are diabetes and asthma, both of which would be excluded from a health insurance policy. For a complete list of exclusions, or if you have any concerns, be sure to ask your adviser what is and isn't covered before taking out your policy.
There are a number of excellent private hospitals groups in the UK, which of those you can access under your health insurance will vary, however. In short, these are the main providers:
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*Based on 461 quotes between 01/22-01/23