If you or a loved one are seriously injured, you want to know that good quality medical care will be available quickly. You may wonder whether a private option is available. Here's our guide to private emergency care and the circumstances where you'll still need to rely on the NHS.
The A&E department at an NHS hospital will treat you for severe and life-threatening conditions, injuries, and less serious conditions. Your waiting time typically depends on the severity of your condition. For example, you'll be seen more quickly if you're experiencing a heart attack or have lost consciousness than if you have a sprained ankle.
A&E will treat wounds that won't stop bleeding, breathing difficulties and severe burns. You'll have access to medical professionals ranging from paramedics and nurses to radiographers, anaesthetists and specialist doctors. It's also open 24/7, 365 days per year.
Your GP should be the first port of call for routine medical issues. However, if you have an acute injury that doesn't warrant a visit to A&E, you can also go to a walk-in or urgent care centre, which may be at a local hospital or in a separate unit. The staff there can assess you and decide whether you need to transfer to A&E, for example, because you need an x-ray.
You can also use the NHS 111 service for guidance. Their clinicians can provide self-care advice and signpost you to appropriate services. They can also book you an emergency appointment or even send an ambulance if needed.
Private hospitals don't have A&E departments in the same way that NHS hospitals do. However, some have urgent care centres where you can seek treatment instead of going to an NHS walk-in centre.
Urgent care centres don't treat life-threatening conditions. If you suspect a stroke, have severe and persistent bleeding or a head injury, you'll need to go to A&E.
One of the main differences between A&E and private urgent care centres is that you can't call an ambulance to take you to a private hospital.
A private walk-in centre can still treat severe conditions, such as burns, wounds, breathing difficulties and sports injuries. They can also help you with more routine problems, such as ear, nose, and throat and stomach complaints. Some centres also offer private vaccinations.
Some centres offer walk-in services where you don't need to make an appointment, while others ask you to call ahead. Check your local clinic to see what they offer.
Private walk-in centres offer several advantages, including:
Whilst private urgent care centres offer several advantages, there are some drawbacks.
Private medical insurance doesn't cover emergency care, so you'll need to pay for your appointment even if you have insurance.
As you might expect, costs vary depending on where you are in the country, but your initial consultation will typically cost between £115 and £120, rising to £150 if you need an appointment for a child. There are also specialist emergency clinics. An emergency consultation at Moorfields Private Eye Hospital will set you back £263. These prices don't include any investigations, for example, blood tests or scans.
Most centres also apply a cancellation fee, so there'll be an extra charge if you call to make an appointment and don't attend.
If you attend your private appointment and need further treatment, you'll have a choice over what to do next. You can opt for private care via your health insurance if you have it or on a self-funded basis. Your doctors can offer private onward referrals to an appropriate specialist consultant if that's the case.
Alternatively, you can ask for a referral to your GP for NHS treatment.
You'll only be able to access the benefits of a private urgent care centre if there's one within travelling distance. There are several across London, in Manchester, Birmingham, Portsmouth and Southampton. The Portland Hospital in London has a centre just for children.
Unfortunately, this means that this service may not be accessible if you live elsewhere in the country.
NHS A&E departments aim to see and admit patients within four hours of arrival. In 2021-2022, 76.7% of patients spent less than 4 hours in A&E. However, recent monthly figures suggest that more people are going to A&E and waiting times are increasing. Consider whether your injury or illness needs a trip to A & E or whether a local walk-in centre can help.
If NHS waiting times are giving you cause for concern, a private urgent care centre could be a viable option if you need quick care for an illness or injury. You can also pay privately for other types of treatment, including surgery.
While health insurance won't cover the costs of your appointment at an urgent care centre, it can cover you for other types of healthcare if you need further investigations or treatment.
A broker can help you by sourcing quotes tailored to your circumstances and guiding you through the process to help you find the right health insurance.
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.
Some private hospitals have urgent care centres where you can seek emergency treatment for conditions including sporting injuries, wounds and breathing difficulties. However, they can't treat life-threatening injuries or illnesses like A&E can. They also have restricted opening hours instead of a 24/7, 365-day-a-year service.
Urgent care centres can provide quick, high-quality care for various ailments upon payment of a fixed fee. Each provider has its own way of working. Some allow you to turn up without an appointment, while others ask that you call first so that they can confirm whether they're able to treat you and give you an appointment time.
No. Health insurance has standard exclusions, and emergency care typically isn't covered, although some policies cover emergency dental treatment. You'll need to pay the cost of your emergency appointment yourself, although you may be covered for further treatment, depending on your policy.
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*Based on 461 quotes between 01/22-01/23