Peter Grandby
Read time:
10 Minutes
Published on
January 7, 2020
Last updated
June 30, 2020

What is private healthcare in the UK? 2020 Guide to private medical treatment

‍Private Health Care in the UK is defined as any medical treatment, diagnosis or test, which is paid for either directly by the patient or indirectly through their insurer. 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 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.

Benefits of private healthcare as explained by Bernie Creaven, Executive Director of BMI Healthcare.

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

If you’ve read our guide to the best health insurance in the UK, you’ll know that private healthcare is crucial to health insurance claims. Private health insurance relies on modern private hospitals to provide the treatments they cover in every policy.

Every private health insurance 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 insurance policy. This list tends to be exclusive to the insurer, although most standard policies will allow you to access the largest hospital providers such as Nuffield, Spire, Ramsay, BMI and Circle Health. 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 insurer may allow you to receive 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. 

Nuffiled Health Logo

Nuffield Health

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 health and wellbeing services.

Spire Healthcare Logo

Spire Healthcare

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 Logo

BMI Healthcare

BMI Healthcare started in 1970 and today has 54 private hospitals and clinics throughout the UK. Offering over 500 different 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 Healthcare Logo


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 Logo

Ramsay Healthcare

Ramsay Healthcare has a network of 33 private hospitals in England, 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.

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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, you can use a tool such as this to search for a hospital close to you that has the specialisms you require. 

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

  1. Price of the treatment: if you are self-paying or have an insurance policy which gives you a certain amount of cash to spend, the price of treatment will be an important consideration.
  2. Specialists or consultants: who works at the hospital and do they have the specialisms that you require? 
  3. 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.
  4. Customer ratings and reviews: what do existing customers say about the hospital and the services it provides?
  5. Private room facilities: Will you receive a private room and are there flexible visiting hours for your friends and family?
  6. 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 treatment you require and whether you do or don’t have Private Health Insurance. This is a hugely important question to ask, and one we've written a dedicated article about. Click this link to learn about the cost of private medical treatments in the UK.

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 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 treatment.

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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, including which hospitals you can access will vary from provider to provider and of course the terms of your policy. However, most health insurers will exclude the following from your policy:

  1. Pre-existing conditions
  2. Normal pregnancy
  3. Cosmetic surgery
  4. Routine dental and optical care
  5. Emergency services
  6. 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 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”

Comparing Private Health Insurance with myTribe

If you’re looking to cover the cost of your future medical costs through Health Insurance then you’ll need to compare all of the leading providers and work out which suits your requirements best. myTribe’s advisors have years of experience helping people find the right policy for them. By working with us you will get the best pricing currently available and have an impartial FCA Approved advisor answering any questions you may have. Best of all our service is free of charge!

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Peter Grandby
Read time:
10 Minutes