Best private healthcare insurance companies:
In this guide, we review the following insurers and their best health insurance policies:
What is private health insurance?
Private health insurance is a type of insurance that covers the cost of private healthcare in the UK. Similarly to other types of insurance - you pay a monthly or annual premium and your insurer will pay for some or all of the cost of private medical treatments you receive.
While this guide focusses on the best private health insurance in the UK, we've also looked to explain the ins and outs of this increasingly popular form of insurance and the private healthcare it gives you access to.
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If you would like to jump to specific parts of this guide, please click on one of the links below:
- What are the benefits of private health insurance?
- What does private health insurance cover?
- What isn't covered by health insurance?
- Private medical insurance underwriting explained
- Top private health insurance providers
- Best private health insurance companies 2021
- Private healthcare in the UK
What is the best private health insurance?
Broadly speaking, we would define the best private health insurance as a comprehensive policy from a leading provider that covers both in and outpatient treatments, diagnostics and testing, with award-winning customer service and excellent customer reviews. While the price is, of course, an essential factor, this article will focus on policy features and service levels.
The best private health insurance policy for you may well be different from those covered in this guide, and you should always compare policies and health insurers and speak to an independent broker before making a decision.
Choosing the best health insurance
Private health insurance is often one of the most critical insurance purchases an individual, couple or family can make - providing security that should someone become seriously unwell, private healthcare is on hand. While there are a variety of reasons why people might take out a private health insurance policy, ultimately it's because it gives affordable access to private medical treatments should they be needed.
The health insurance market is growing in the UK and each year more and more people decide to take out a policy. With that, new companies, products and services are continually being released, adding to the already vast array of options currently available. This makes finding the best health insurance policy increasingly difficult and complicated, fortunately, brokers exist to help you navigate the world of private health insurance quotes.
A broker will save you time and money
Because of the intricacies of health insurance quotes, it's one of the only forms of insurance which you can't easily compare online. Yes, of course, there are tools out there which will give you crude guide prices, but without knowing your medical history and individual circumstances, they will only be rough guides. It's therefore important that you speak to an independent health insurance broker who'll not only be able to help you compare policies, but also provide you with advice on choosing the right one for you. The great thing about insurance brokers is that they don't charge for the service they provide and you can often get even better health insurance quotes and pricing by using a broker vs. going direct.
Insurance providers in our guide
All of the private health insurance providers included in our reviews scored well, however, to find the best health insurance policy for you, you should consider what you want from the policy and then speak to an FCA authorised health insurance broker who'll be able to help you select the right cover.
For example, some of the top-rated insurers may not have medical facilities or hospitals near to you, or their policies could be out of your price range.
Considerations when looking for private health insurance:
- Do you require access to quicker diagnosis (outpatient cover)?
- Are there specific hospitals you'd like to be able to use?
- Are there any particular illnesses or drugs you would like cover for?
- What your budget is, bearing in mind the price will probably rise each year.
For more information about the cost of health insurance, please read our guide "how much does health insurance cost?" or request a quote to receive personalised pricing.
What are the benefits of private health insurance?
The benefits of private medical insurance are numerous, but it should be remembered that it always provides a supplementary service to that of the NHS, and is not a replacement.
Main benefits of private health insurance:
- Avoid potential delays on NHS waiting lists and receive medical treatment at a time that suits you.
- Get more choice over where your treatment takes place and the specialist that treats you.
- Access the latest treatments and drugs, even those not yet available on the NHS.
- Have a private room during your hospital stay and more flexibility over visitor hours.
What does private health insurance cover?
All private health insurance providers will cover the costs relating to treating acute conditions where an overnight hospital stay is required (inpatient treatment). Chronic conditions, meaning those which aren’t curable, won’t be covered and only in more comprehensive policies will outpatient treatment and diagnosis be included.
Health insurance cover will usually include:
- Cost relating to hospital admission
- Diagnostic tests, such as CT scans and MRI scans
- Consultant's fees
- Hospital accommodation and nursing care
- Cancer treatments - some polices will include drugs that are not available on the NHS
Health insurance cover may also include:
- Outpatient consultations
- Mental health treatment
- Physiotherapy and chiropody
- Complimentary therapies
What isn’t covered by health insurance?
What isn’t covered by your private health insurance will depend on your chosen insurer, policy and circumstances, but broadly speaking you can expect all of the following to be excluded:
- Chronic, incurable conditions
- GP services
- Pre-existing medical conditions
- Emergency services
- Normal pregnancy
- Cosmetic surgery
For a complete list of exclusions please either refer to your policy documentation or ask your adviser before taking out a policy.
Definition of terms
By this point of our guide to the best private health insurance providers you may well be asking what's the difference between an acute condition and a chronic one and where does inpatient care stop and outpatient care begin? In this section, we'll explain exactly what those terms mean and why they're important.
What is an acute medical condition?
Each insurer will define an acute condition slightly differently, but broadly speaking it means an illness which can be cured 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.
What is a chronic medical condition?
A chronic condition is defined as one which cannot be cured and will probably require management, as opposed to medical treatment. Two examples are diabetes and asthma, both of which would be excluded from a policy. For a full 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.
Inpatient treatment, meaning that where an overnight stay is required, forms the foundations of all private health insurance policies, even the most basic. While treatment and a stay in a private hospital will be covered by an inpatient-only policy, it’s important to point out that much of the diagnostics and testing leading to the medical treatment would need to take place through the NHS, which could result in delays to your ultimate treatment. While
Outpatient diagnosis and treatment
Prior to receiving treatment for your condition, you will inevitably go through one or multiple consultations and tests before receiving a diagnosis. If you would like these to take place privately, you will need outpatient cover, which is typically included in more comprehensive policies. Bear in mind though, whether you do or don’t have outpatient cover, you always start with a visit to your NHS GP. With outpatient cover, you'll be referred by your GP to a private specialist and from that point on all of your tests, consultations and ultimate treatments will take place privately. Outpatient treatment will typically include things like physiotherapy or mental health support.
What is a pre-existing condition?
A pre-existing condition is one which presents symptoms or which you have been treated for in the last five years. Typically, this also includes conditions that you were diagnosed for over five years ago.
Each insurer will define pre-existing conditions slightly differently so it's always important to read the policy documents so you understand the cover and its limitations.
Private cancer cover
Private health insurance gives you access to the newest cancer treatments, procedures and drugs, many of which aren’t currently available on the NHS. Access to cutting-edge private cancer care is often one of the most significant reasons people take out private health insurance policies and with Cancer Research UK stating that 1 in 2 of us will develop cancer in our lifetimes it's little wonder.
Benefits of private cancer care:
- Access to cutting-edge medical treatments, procedures and drugs.
- Choice of where chemotherapy takes place, at home for instance.
- Money to pay for scalp cooling to reduce hair loss from chemotherapy.
- Cover for the cost of prostheses and wigs that might be needed after cancer surgery/treatment.
- Access to home nursing for a certain number of days, with a private nurse visiting you at home.
Private medical insurance underwriting explained
Underwriting in private medical insurance is very important as it doesn’t only affect the price of your policy but also your coverage. That’s why we always recommend getting to grips with the fundamentals to ensure that you don’t inadvertently end up with less cover than you thought you had. There are two main types of underwriting used by UK insurers for the best health insurance policies, they are Moratorium and Full Medical Underwriting.
Moratorium Underwriting automatically excludes all your pre-existing conditions over a five year period. Rather than finding out about your medical history upfront, insurers will instead defer that process until such time that you make a claim. Moratorium Underwriting is by far the most popular form of private medical insurance underwriting in the UK. Its main disadvantage is that you won’t truly know whether your condition is covered until you make a claim.
Full Medical Underwriting (FMU)
As the name suggests, Full Medical Underwriting looks at your medical history in its entirety with the insurer then providing you with a policy with clear exclusions. Full Medical Underwriting is time-consuming and can require the insurer writing to your GP for information, but unlike moratorium underwriting, you will have a clear understanding of what is and isn’t covered on the policy.
Which private health insurance underwriting is best?
Which private health insurance underwriting method is best is subjective based on your own circumstances. As we mentioned, Moratorium is the most commonly used, but FMU also has its place. As underwriting is such an important part of your cover, we’d always recommend speaking to us before you make a decision.
How much does private health insurance cost?
The cost of private health insurance is impacted by quite a large number of factors, with the most significant being:
- Your age - The age of those on the policy will affect the annual premium and as you get older the cost of the policy will increase.
- The level of cover you require -Whether you have outpatient diagnosis and treatments will significantly impact the cost of your policy.
- Pre-existing conditions - If opting for Full Medical Underwriting, pre-existing conditions could affect the price of the policy.
- The excess on the policy - You can choose how large the excess is on your policy - the higher it is, the lower your annual payments will be.
- Your chosen list of hospitals - You can choose which hospitals you would like access to if you want only the very best it will be reflected in the price.
- Optional extras - Optional extras such as dental cover and optical cover will affect the price of your policy.
Types of private health insurance in the UK
The amount of health insurance cover you have will differ based on the insurer and policy you choose, alongside your budget of course. With the ever-increasing cost of private healthcare, comprehensive policies can be expensive, someone in their 40s can pay upwards of £50 per month for example. As you age, the cost of your policy will usually increase too, so getting a good deal to start with is vital.
Policies are customisable products
Health insurance is an extremely customisable product and you'll have lots of options and choice come the time you configure your policy. The downside of this is that the process of comparing policies can be complicated, which is why it is usually best to speak to an independent private health insurance adviser.
Cancer cash plans
Cancer cover tends to be central to most health insurance policies, but not everyone can afford it. Recognising this, insurers have created cancer cash plans, which pay out a lump sum rather for the total treatment of cancer. While this won't fit many people, it works for others and helps to keep the cost of policies down. The advantage of these types of policies is the cost, with a 35-year-old non-smoker expecting to pay as little as £15 per month for the maximum £60,000 cover.
Cash plans are another type of insurance you can choose independently from your main policy or as well as. Cash plans typically cover the cost of minor and more regular treatments. These include paying for opticians, chiropodists and physios.
Many cash plans work as a percentage cashback policy, meaning they only pay between 50%-75% of the costs incurred. There's also often a limit to the amount you can claim each year for various treatments, so as always, check the terms and conditions before your sign up.
Cash plans are significantly cheaper than main insurance policies, with MoneySavingExpert.com quoting cover of £26 per month in January 2020. It's important to weigh up the reduced cost versus the reduction in cover though, and it is important to remember that major hospital treatments won't be covered at all.
Top 5 Private Health Insurance Providers in the UK (by market share)
Four private health insurance companies dominate the UK market, with 90% share between them. The remaining 10% is split between several smaller or niche health insurance companies. This section of our best private health insurance UK article provides a brief overview of those four insurers, along with a fifth who is experiencing growing demand.
Axa began as a company in 1940 and has for nearly 80 years been providing private health insurance to their UK customers. Multi-award-winning, with a reputation for innovation, they are rightly one of the biggest insurance companies in the UK.
Founded in 1696, Aviva is the UK's biggest insurance company with over 15 million customers. They provide insurance for a variety of purposes, including private health. As you might expect, they have won plenty of awards and recognition of excellence.
Bupa, a household name in the UK, was founded in 1947 and now has over 2.7 million private health insurance customers. A provider of both insurance and private healthcare services, with a reputation for quality and customer care.
Vitality, formerly Pre-health, is an insurance and investment provider based in Bournemouth. They are shaking up the market by taking a fresh approach to private health insurance, incentivising healthy living and rewarding those who keep active.
WPA isn't technically one of the biggest providers in the UK, but they are growing fast and starting to have a real foothold in the market. They provide private health insurance to everyone from individuals and families, through to small and large businesses.
Best private health insurance companies of 2021
In this section of our best private health insurance UK guide, we've looked at the 9 of the leading health insurers and reviewed them on:
- Policy quality and comprehensiveness
- Customer reviews*
- Recent awards
All of the insurance providers covered in this article have at least one policy which has a 4 or 5* defaqto 2020 rating, this scoring is updated each year on the 2nd of February, so we'll revisit each provider's score in February 2021.
*There are multiple review platforms currently available, and we have sought out the ones who have the most reviews for the insurer in question.
Axa PPP Healthcare Review
Axa PPP was founded in 1940 by a group of hospitals and doctors to help middle-income earners access expert medical care. With over 33,500 consultants and practitioners and 250 hospitals in their directory, they are the second largest provider of private medical insurance in the UK.
Axa PPP HealthcarePersonal Health
Axa offers a variety of policy options, from their core cover which is inpatient only, through to standard and full outpatient treatment cover, all under their heading of "Personal Health" insurance.
In terms of private health insurance policy options and comprehensiveness, Axa is right up there as one of the best. Their Core cover provides an excellent level of baseline cover. For those wishing to have speedier diagnosis and treatment, you can upgrade to their standard or full outpatient treatment cover.
Reviews and awards:
Axa collects reviews from its customers via Feefo and in 2020 won their "Platinum Trusted Service Award". They have an overall Customer Experience Rating of 4.8/5, which is excellent given the number of reviews they collect. In the last 12 months, they've collected 241 reviews on Feefo, and 98% of those are either 4 or 5 stars. Looking at these numbers, it is easy to see why Axa PPP has won Feefo's Trusted Service Award.
- Yourmoney.com - Best Direct Healthcare Provider 2019
- Defaqto 5 star rating
Axa PPP Policy highlights:
- Speedy access to diagnosis and private treatment for members
- Access to more than 250 hospitals and over 34,000 specialists
- Extensive heart and cancer cover and care
- Telephone support from a team of dedicated heard and cancer nurses
- No yearly limit on outpatient surgery
- Consult with a GP through your smartphone or laptop with Doctor@Hand
- Speak to a Working Body physio over the phone without a GP referral
- Use Fast Track Appointments to see a consultant quickly
- Get a second opinion if there's something you're not sure about
- Free cover on your plan for new-borns until your private health insurance renewal date
Information relating to Axa PPP insurance taken from the AXA PPP website and correct as of December 2020
BUPA is perhaps the best-known provider of private health insurance in the UK, becoming synonymous with the service they provide. Their private health insurance offering in the UK is called Bupa By You, which is a flexible product that can be configured to your requirements.
Concerning policy comprehensiveness and quality, BUPA leads with their comprehensive private health insurance, which covers both in and outpatient private healthcare treatment and diagnosis. Yes, you can get coverage where you are diagnosed on the NHS and treated privately via BUPA. Still, their suggestion is that you'd be better off having the full cover. While this may seem somewhat presumptuous, we think it shows that BUPA understands what its clients want and encourages people to go entirely private to avoid delays on the NHS.
Reviews and awards
BUPA collects reviews using Trustpilot and currently has a 4.3 out of 5-star rating and are classified as "Excellent". Bearing in mind the size of BUPAs customer based we think this is incredibly impressive and a testament to the levels of cover and service they provide.
- Defaqto 5 star rating
Bupa Policy highlights:
- Faster diagnosis and healthcare treatment of major illnesses for members
- Receive access to breakthrough cancer drugs and therapies
- See a GP usually within 24 hours in the comfort of your own home with Digital GP
- 24/7 Healthline available for you to speak to a qualified nurse or doctor if you have any health concerns
- A cancer promise, where BUPA will pay for any eligible cancer costs in full, subject to T&Cs.
- Extensive mental health support and the ability to speak to a trained advisor and in some cases, a councillor or mindfulness.
- A choice of three hospital lists to give you greater flexibility over where you are treated.
- Get discounts to popular restaurants and shops with 2-for-1 tickets to major UK attractions.
Information relating to BUPA insurance has been taken from the BUPA website and correct as of December 2020
Aviva's health insurance product is called Healthier Solutions which offers prompt private medical treatment through a nationwide network of hundreds of hospitals. Like the other providers in this list, Aviva's Healthier Solutions has a 5-star defaqto rating for 2020, demonstrating the excellent level of cover they provide. Winners of the Company of the Year and Best Individual PMI Provider 2019 at the Health Insurance & Protection Awards, Aviva has a track record as a reliable insurer.
Aviva Healthier Solutions
In terms of how comprehensive their private health insurance policies are, Aviva provides full outpatient cover as well as the standard inpatient protection. You can adjust your cover in many ways, such as adding routine dental and optical treatments or by changing your hospital list to reduce the cost. We would describe Aviva's offering as a flexible private healthcare solution which can be tailored to almost anyone's requirements.
Reviews and awards
The only reviews we can find for Aviva are on Trustpilot, where it scores a miserly 1.5 out of 5 stars. It should be noted though, that this is for the company as a whole and isn't specifically for its health insurance offering.
Aviva Policy Highlights:
- Access to hundreds of nationwide private hospitals including BMI, Nuffield Health and Spire hospitals
- Digital GP providing around the clock video consultations
- Cancer care cover as standard
- Outpatient consultations and private healthcare treatment included as standard
- 24-hour stress counselling helpline
- 25% gym membership discount
- Couples pay less
- Younger children can be added for free
- Flexible policies which can be tailored to your budget and requirements
Information regarding Aviva insurance taken from the Aviva website and correct as of December 2020.
Vitality (formerly Pru-Health) Review
Vitality provides both life and private health insurance, this part of our article focuses purely on their health insurance product called Personal Healthcare. Once again, Vitality's health insurance offering scores an impressive 5-star defaqto rating for 2020.
Vitality - Personal Healthcare
Vitality is often described as an innovative provider of private health insurance as they have brought new ideas to the market, such as rewarding those who keep active. Their Core cover includes both in and day-patient cover, plus out-patient surgical procedures.
Reviews and awards
Vitality enjoy a 4.3 out of 5 star score on Trustpilot and are rated as excellent. As five times winners of Moneyfacts “Best Private Medical Insurance Provider” award, you can be sure that Vitality are committed to delivering the highest levels of customer service.
Vitality Policy Highlights:
- High levels of customer satisfaction from an innovative provider
- Excellent cancer cover included as standard
- Includes home nursing and private ambulance service
- NHS hospital cash benefit
- Weight loss surgery included
- Oral surgery included
- 24/7 private GP helpline
- Talking therapies included
- Receive discounts on a large number of healthy lifestyle activities
Information regarding Vitality insurance taken from the Vitality website and correct as of January 2020.
Health-On-Line is a relatively new private health insurance company which started in 2000 to provide a new approach to the market. Since then it has grown significantly, resulting in it being acquired by AXA, albeit still trading under its brand name.
Health-on-line’s health insurance service aims to give you more control over your policy and your healthcare. You get a dedicated account manager, 24/7 nurses helpline, and you can manage your account, as you would hope, online.
Reviews and awards
Health-on-line currently has a score of 4.8 out of 5 on Feefo from 141 reviews in the past year.
Health-on-line is currently transitioning to the AXA brand and within the next few months, the brand will likely be replaced with one new brand AXA Health.
- Your Money 2018 and 2019 Awards
- Feefo Platinum Trusted Service Award 2020
Health-on-line Personal Health and inSpire
With access to over 200 quality assessed hospitals via the Axa PPP network, Health-on-line can provide excellent nationwide coverage. As with other providers, you can build a plan around your specific circumstances, including a bespoke hospital list.
Health-on-line policy highlights:
- Comprehensive medical cover with over 250 UK hospitals
- Access more than 24,000 specialists nationwide
- Day patient and inpatient cover included
- 24/7 nurse hotline
- Cancer cover included in both Personal Health and inSpire plans
- Up to three specialist consultations per year
- Discounted gym membership
- 25% off health assessments
Information relating to Health-on-line insurance taken from their website and correct as of December 2020.
Freedom Health Insurance Review
Freedom Health Insurance was established in 2003 and is a specialist provider of Private Medical Insurance. Being that they only offer healthcare insurance, they are dedicated to the provision of first-class private medical protection. Unlike other providers, they don't adjust their premiums based on your location, so even if you're in a more expensive area such as London, you'll pay the same as if you were outside of the capital.
Freedom's best level of protection is their Freedom Elite product, which gives you comprehensive in and outpatient cover. Medical costs are settled directly with the hospital, and the whole plan can be tailored to your requirements.
Freedom Elite is by its nature a comprehensive, high-quality policy, with cover even for alternative therapies such as homoeopathy and podiatry as an optional extra. It includes full cancer cover, with oncology tests, surgery and private healthcare treatment. Psychiatric cover is an additional extra as is access to a private GP, Dentist and Optician.
Reviews and awards
Freedom only has a small number of reviews on Feefo but they are largely positive, with the company scoring 4.6/5 from 32 reviews.
- 2019 Health Insurance & Protect Awards Finalist
Freedom private health insurance policy highlights:
- Medical treatment costs settled directly with the hospital
- Full inpatient annual benefit
- Health insurance tailored to your requirements
- Day patient cover included
- No increase in renewal premium for making claims
- Cancer cover as standard
- Optional psychiatric and alternative therapies cover
- Optional virtual GP and routine dental and optical cover
Information relating to Freedom Health Insurance taken from their website and correct as of December 2020.
WPA are a smaller but growing private health insurance company that provides individual and family health insurance policies. Innovatively, WPA have introduced the multi-family policy, which allows you to create a plan which covers both your immediate and extended family.
WPA Flexible Health and Multi-Family Healthcare
WPA’s Flexible Health product gives you the ability to choose from three levels of cover, Essentials, Premier and Elite. Seeing as we are interested in the best private healthcare insurance, we’re going to focus on their Elite offering which includes full in and outpatient cover.
Reviews and awards
WPA have nearly 400 reviews on Trustpilot and currently score an impressive 4.8 our of 5 and are rated as Excellent. Having only started collecting reviews in 2018, the number of positive responses is especially impressive.
WPA health insurance policy highlights:
- Extensive cover with a significant hospital list
- Inpatient and day-patient cover as standard
- Full outpatient cover on their Elite plan
- Unlimited annual benefit limit on their Elite plan
Information relating to WPA insurance taken from their website and correct as of December 2020.
Saga's health insurance is for the over 50's market and they have a range of policies. Their "Super" product range offers their best policies, covering both in and out-patient treatments as well as diagnostic procedures. Saga's HealthPlan Super, Super 4 and Super 6 all scored a defaqto score of 5 in February 2020.
Saga HealthPlan Super
With Saga you have access to a nationwide network of over 500 private hospitals and you have access to special services which are not available on the NHS such as speaking to a GP at any time, day or night. They offer policy options such as a 4-week wait, where you can reduce the cost of your premium by agreeing to be treated by the NHS if the waiting time is less than 4 weeks.
Saga has an enviable level of reviews on Trustpilot, scoring a 4.5 out of 5 with over 10,000 reviews.
Saga policy highlights:
- Outpatient consultations and treatment included as standard
- Up to £2,500 of mental health treatment per annum
- £2000 allowance per year for homoeopaths and acupuncturists
- Second opinion service
Information regarding Saga taken from the Saga insurance website and correct as of December 2020.
The Exeter Review
The Exeter is a society that was first founded in 1927, previously known as Exeter Family Friendly, it rebranded in 2015 to simply "The Exeter". As an award-winning insurer providing everything from health insurance though to life and income protection policies, they are very popular among people of all ages.
The Exeter Health +
The Exeter's best health insurance is called Health+ and it promises to give more control and flexibility over your private health insurance and treatments. At the heart of every policy is the determination to provide access to fast treatments of the highest quality. They've recently enhanced the product by giving the option for unlimited outpatient diagnostics.
Reviews and awards
The Exeter has over 400 reviews on Trustpilot, scoring a strong 4.6/5 and rated as Excellent.
The Exeter policy highlights:
- A choice of three hospital lists
- Unlimited in-patient and day-patient treatment
- Complete cancer cover
- Out-patient surgery
- Private ambulance
- Home nursing
- Post-op physiotherapy
Information regarding The Exeter taken from The Exeter insurance website and correct as of December 2020.
CS Healthcare Review
Only since 2019 has CS Healthcare opened their doors and said that anyone can get their private medical insurance, regardless of their profession. Prior to that, you would have to work in a particular profession to access their policies.
CS Healthcare Yourchoice
CS Healthcare's Yourchoice private medical insurance policy is its flexible policy which can be tailored to your individual requirements. All Yourchoice policies start with their 'Essential' model, which can then be built on to create a bespoke service.
Reviews and awards
CS Healthcare has collected an impressive 605 reviews on Trustpilot and is rated excellent, scoring 4.4/5 when we checked in December 2020
CS Healthcare policy highlights:
- In, day and out-patient surgery included under their Essential module
- Specialised scans are included
- Post-op care
- Private ambulance included
- 24/7 health advice line
- Specialist and consult fees included
Information regarding CS Healthcare taken from the CS Healthcare website and correct as of December 2020.
About private healthcare and medical services in the UK
We've looked at the best private health insurance, but now perhaps we should look at the private healthcare services it'll give you access to. In this section of our guide, we look at what private healthcare is, the benefits, the providers and anything else we think you might need to know on the subject.
What is private health in the UK?
Private healthcare can be an attractive alternative to using the NHS, as patients will generally be seen quicker and have far greater flexibility over their medical treatment. That said, it isn’t cheap, which is why many people look to purchase private health insurance which covers the cost of many private treatments.
Benefits of private healthcare
There are a number of significant benefits that being treated privately can offer:
- Avoid NHS waiting times, be seen, diagnosed and treated quickly.
- Access treatments and drugs which may not be available on the NHS.
- Receive results of tests and scans quickly.
- Get more choice over the specialist that treats you.
- Have greater flexibility over where you’re treated.
- Stay in a private room, with more flexible visitor hours.
NHS Patient Choice Programme
The NHS recognises that patient choice is extremely important and it, therefore, has a dedicated programme aimed at improving the communication of the available options to patients. You can ask your GP about treatment via private healthcare, and they should be able to help you make an informed decision as to whether it is appropriate in your circumstances.
Private hospitals and health insurance
Every private health insurance policy provider has its own hospital directory or list, which is a collection of hospitals which they will allow you to receive treatment at, as outlined in your private medical insurance policy. This list tends to be exclusive to the insurer, although most policies will allow you to access the largest hospital providers such as Nuffield, Spire, Ramsay, BMI and Circle Healthcare. It isn't always the case though, so be sure to confirm this with your insurer or check with us.
To access more extensive hospital directories, such as those based in London and HCA hospitals, your insurance company may allow you to receive medical treatment for an additional policy premium. You should also bear in mind insurers may update their hospital list throughout the year, adding or removing to their standard directory.
If you’re in doubt or would like a helping hand, we’d be happy to work with you and advise on the hospitals that you’d benefit from accessing for your needs.
Private Healthcare providers in the UK
There are a variety of Private Healthcare providers across the UK, some of which specialise in certain conditions, with others offering a broad range of medical services. In this section, we provide an overview of four of the leading providers, where their hospitals are and what they are best known for.
One of the best known Private Healthcare providers in the UK, Nuffield Health is a not-for-profit charity, which invests its income back into improving the nation's health. They currently have 31 hospitals and over 100 fitness and wellbeing clubs across the UK. They work with the NHS, private medical insurers, employers and the public to provide private health and wellbeing services.
Spire Healthcare has 39 private hospitals across the UK and provides a large range of treatments, from cancer and cardiac care, through to diagnostic scans, tests and investigations. An award-winning provider, Spire Healthcare are committed to providing high-quality care to the UK.
BMI Healthcare started in 1970 and today has 54 private hospitals and clinics throughout the UK. Offering over 500 different medical treatments, they have centres of excellence for cancer, spinal, orthopaedic, neuro and cardiac care. According to their website, as of 2020, they handle over 296,000 inpatient and 1,700,000 outpatient visits each year.
HCA operates six world-class private hospitals across London and the Christie Private Care Hospital in Manchester. Due to location and their first-class facilities, healthcare at these hospitals tend to cost more than with some of the other providers mentioned.
Ramsay Healthcare has a network of 33 private hospitals in England and Wales, which provide a comprehensive range of clinical services to over 200,000 people per annum and employing over 5,000 people.
Other providers of private healthcare
In addition to the four providers we’ve mentioned, there are numerous others that provide excellent services to their patients. We always encourage people to research the providers themselves, we’re more than happy to share what we know, but you’re more likely to discover things that are pertinent to you.
Private Hospitals In the UK
With well over 100 private hospitals scattered across the UK, each with their own specialisms and consultants, it can be tricky to locate the one which is best for you. If you’re insured, you should always start by speaking to your insurer, to see which hospitals they include in your cover. If you’re not insured and looking to pay directly.
Types of private hospitals
There are several types of private hospitals that you will come across in the UK:
- Large hospital groups such as BMI Healthcare, Nuffield and Spire
- Small Independent hospitals
- Charitable Hospitals
- Private patient clinics or units within NHS Trusts
Key points to consider when choosing a private hospital
- Price of the private treatment: if you are self-paying or have a private medical insurance policy which gives you a certain amount of cash to spend, the price of private medical treatment will be an important consideration.
- Specialists or consultants: who works at the hospital and do they have the specialisms that you require?
- Infection rates and MRSA levels: getting an infection shortly after surgery can slow down recovery, so checking how your chosen hospitals compare to others in terms of infection rates is crucial.
- Customer ratings and reviews: what do existing customers say about the hospital and the services it provides?
- Private room facilities: Will you receive a private room and are there flexible visiting hours for your friends and family?
- Location: How easy is it for you to get there and for your family to visit too?
“Part of the service myTribe provides is helping clients to build a bespoke hospital list based on their location and requirements"
How much does private healthcare cost in the UK?
The cost of treatment in a private hospital will depend on a variety of factors, such as your location, the private healthcare treatment you require and whether you do or don’t have a private health insurance policy. This is a hugely important question to ask, and one we've written a dedicated article about.
How do you pay for private healthcare?
There are a number of ways you can pay for private healthcare in private hospitals around the UK. The three most common are:
- Having Private Health Insurance: Paying a monthly premium which covers you for a range of potential healthcare treatments. Often accompanied with an excess on the policy at the point of claim.
- Paying for the services directly: Arguably the simplest method with the most flexibility, pay for the services as you require them.
- Via a personal medical loan: Similar to paying direct, albeit finance is provided to allow you to spread the cost of the private medical treatment.
Accessing private healthcare via private medical health insurance
Having private medical insurance is one of the most popular ways of accessing private healthcare in the UK. It gives you a predictable monthly cost, while also providing peace of mind that should you become unwell, you’re covered.
What isn’t covered by Private Health Insurance
What is and isn’t covered by health insurance, including which hospitals you can access will vary from provider to provider and of course the terms of your policy. However, most private health insurers will exclude the following from your policy:
- Pre-existing conditions
- Normal pregnancy
- Cosmetic surgery
- Routine dental and optical care
- Emergency services
- Chronic conditions
For more information about what isn’t included, it is always best to look at your policy documentation, or ask us, when we’re discussing your policy options.
Insurers’ Hospital Lists
Every insurer will have their own hospital directory which will detail the hospitals you can receive private medical treatment at in the event of a claim. Usually, the insurer will offer a national hospital list comprising primarily of mid-range hospitals, spread across the UK. You can, however, ask for a different list, be that of hospitals which are more local to you, or even higher-end hospitals, usually located in central London. As with any option within private health insurance, the hospital list you choose will affect your premium.
“myTribe’s advisors have an excellent understanding of the UK’s private hospital network and work will work with you to build a hospital list tailored to your location and requirements”
Compare the UK’s leading private health insurers
Compare the best providers of private medical insurance with us and get free, impartial advice from one of our UK based Financial Conduct Approved authorised and regulated partners. Health insurance quotes can at times be complicated, and choosing the best health insurance policy isn’t always straightforward, which is why we’re here to help. Simply get in touch and we'll provide you with bespoke health insurance quotes based on your personal circumstances.
Benefits of our service:
- Our private medical insurance comparison and advice services are free of charge
- We will provide you with the best insurance policy pricing available
- You’ll have a dedicated account manager from start to finish
- Our advice is impartial and independent - we aren’t tied to a single insurer
- Our advisors are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority
- Access pricing not available on comparison sites