Private Health Insurance in the UK (2023)

Your guide to health insurance in the UK

The United Kingdom is the destination of choice for many working expats, particularly those from Commonwealth countries. Regardless of where they come from, many will understandably have questions about the country’s healthcare system; who does it cover, how much does it cost, what standard of care can I expect? While there is a very generous public health sector, the National Health System (NHS), many people still choose private health insurance to secure access to Great Britain’s many highly regarded private hospitals.

This brief guide has been written for you to get an understanding of what private health insurance in the UK looks like, and how you can secure the best medical plan for your situation.

Healthcare for expats living and working in the UK

While the country does have the NHS, which has an extensively wide coverage eligibility net, arrivals to the UK should remember that there are four different countries within the union. For the most part, the NHS is the public health provider across the region but there are, however, some variations in the administration and provision of services that differ from country to country. The individual country websites are here for your information:

As is the case for many public health sectors around the world, the NHS is often found to have lengthy wait lists, a reluctance of General Practitioners (GPs) to refer to a specialist, and fees for treatments from dentists (the NHS is heavily subsidized and offers virtually free care for many UK residents and citizens).

This is where private UK health insurance shines. Private hospitals feature the advantage of next to no waiting lists, with many patients able to consult a GP and book in treatment or a surgery as little as 24 hours (or more, in some circumstances). Expert specialists are always on hand for medical advice and support, and you can generally keep the same physician throughout your whole treatment, rather than simply seeing whoever is rostered on that day.

In addition to general care, private health insurance in the UK can also offer a variety of extra benefits; such as coverage for dental, maternity, and vision. For a free quote, check out our online comparison tool here, or see our Health Insurance Options section below for more information.

Types of medical care in the UK

The UK features the common types of care you’d see in many developed nations; inpatient and outpatient care, maternity, dental, and optical treatments are available. GPs often provide primary health care and make referrals to specialists if necessary. Although community pharmacies are privately owned, they will have contracts with their local health service to supply medicine prescribed by doctors.

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Hospitals also feature Accident and Emergency departments, and ambulatory services are generally provided free in emergencies by the public sector. These services are supplemented by a number of voluntary organizations, such as the British Red Cross, St Andrews Ambulance Association, and St John Ambulance.

Telehealth is also growing in the UK, with the NHS offering increasing ways of accessing non-emergency medical advice.

Insurance options for the UK

When it comes to paying for medical care in the UK, there are two options available to you; seeking care through the subsidized NHS, or seeking private, non-NHS covered services. Here’s a quick summary of how payment for each works:

The National Health Service (NHS)

As previously mentioned, the NHS is an extensive public health service that provides coverage to the union’s 64.6 million people (including 54.3 million in England alone). Immense is the scale of people supported by the NHS that the system itself deals with over 1 million patients every 36 hours, covering everything from antenatal screenings, routine health checks, long-term condition treatments, transplants, emergency treatment, and end-of-life care.

This system is funded by the majority through general taxation and National Insurance. In fact, 98.8% of the funding comes from these sources, with only 1.2% of NHS budgets coming from patient charges. National Insurance contributions are paid by employees and employers through earnings, and other tax revenues (such as Income, Corporation, and Value Added Tax) make up the majority of the NHS’ budget sources.

There are still some out-of-pocket expenses that can occur within the NHS system, and this is generally dependent on the type of treatment you need, as well as your circumstances. For example, prescriptions are free for some people (like under 16 or over 60-year-olds, pregnant women, etc.), while the majority will pay GBP 8.60 per item. Things such as dental treatment, eye tests, travel costs, and wigs for affected cancer patients may also come with a cost.

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On the whole, the NHS system provides cheap and accessible medical care of a high standard through national UK health insurance contributions; very similar to the way other Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand provide care.

Private health insurance in the UK

The UK is home to a number of globally recognized insurance providers and carriers, such as Bupa, AXA, Allianz, and Cigna. There are also a number of smaller, local insurers that offer private coverage in the union as well. On the whole, people can expect that a policy bought in the UK will provide coverage for all of the countries of the union unless it is an international health insurance plan providing global coverage.

Basic private medical insurance will generally cover the costs of most inpatient treatments, as well as day care surgery. In addition to simple inpatient plans, consumers can also include outpatient benefits, coverage for maternity, dental and vision, as well as a host of other health and wellbeing related benefits, dependent on your needs. These plans can be comprehensive, standalone products, or can act as a top-up to NHS coverage.

Getting private UK health insurance widens your access to medical services in the country. While the NHS does provide extensive coverage at public facilities, there are some benefits that private health insurance does better:

  • Reduced wait times: Everything from referrals to a specialist, access to the type of scan you want, and physiotherapy sessions are much easier and faster to come by when you have private health insurance. The average NHS wait is six weeks; private hospitals can arrange for you to be seen as soon as your insurer approves coverage, which can be as soon as a few hours.

  • Private rooms: Private insurance often grants its policyholders access to private or semi-private rooms, making waiting for treatment or recovery a much more comfortable experience than in a six-bed, mixed-sex open ward. Private hospital rooms can come with extensive entertainment options, guest facilities for companions, free WIFI, and the privacy you might need during a vulnerable time.

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  • Specialist drugs and treatments: Because the NHS needs to weigh up new treatment success against the spending of public money, sometimes you might not have access to the more innovative and groundbreaking drugs and treatments on offer around the world. There are even some cases of particular drugs, for things like diabetes treatment, not being offered in certain postcodes (see: the postcode lottery). Private health insurance can provide the funds to cover some of the more expensive non-general treatments that the NHS has not yet approved.

  • Choose your doctor and hospital: In many circumstances, UK private health insurance holders can choose the doctor or specialist they want to use for treatment, and the hospital or facility they want to seek treatment from. This is not possible in the NHS where doctors work on rosters and patients are generally admitted to their nearest, local hospital.

Private health insurance costs, however. If you consider that National Insurance contributions are mandatory, many people may not see a benefit in paying “twice” for healthcare in the UK. As with most public health systems, however, there are gaps and challenges that can make seeking care more difficult than it needs to be. Securing a comprehensive or top-up UK health insurance policy can sometimes make all the difference.

Deciding which UK health insurance options is right for you

Considering the solid options for healthcare in the UK, there’s really no single right answer for everyone. Understanding your own situation and needs is the best way to know whether or not you need public or private health insurance. When it comes to that discussion, one of the best decisions you can make is to engage the services of an experienced UK health insurance broker.

Pacific Prime has been delivering medical insurance solutions for people around the world for nearly 20 years. We’ve got solid partnerships with many local insurers, as well as all of the major industry giants that operate in the UK and around the world. With us, you’ll have access to the best plans available and, in addition to great products, you’ll also have access to our unparalleled service and claims support too.

Call us now to find out more about what Pacific Prime can do for your UK health insurance solutions, or click here for a no obligation, free quote.

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Is it worth having private health insurance in the UK? ›

Is private medical insurance good value for money? It can be good value if you might need specialist, expensive treatment. If you're a sporting enthusiast, for example, you might want access to specialist private treatment that isn't available in the NHS – like surgeons and experts who only do private work.

Is private health insurance really worth it? ›

Private health insurance helps people avoid long wait times for non-urgent procedures and lets them access services that Medicare does not cover. But out of pocket costs may be a deterrent for many people to use it to pay for their medical costs.

What percentage of UK has private health insurance? ›

Roughly 11 per cent of the UK population has some form of private medical insurance.

What are the 3 main features of private medical insurance? ›

Private health insurance: basic features

The common variables within these policies are various limits on reimbursement, a choice of deductibles (i.e., how much you pay towards treatment), and where the care is provided.

Is it better to go private or NHS? ›

Private facilities are modern and more comfortable, service tends to be more efficient, and Consultants can offer more personalised one-on-one care due to a reduced caseload. Private hospitals can also offer a wider range of treatments and procedures due to higher budgets for equipment, medication and specialists.

What are two disadvantages of private health insurance? ›

Disadvantages of private health insurance

Coverage comes at a cost, and premiums increase yearly. Depending on your policy, you may not be covered for the treatment you require. It's important to take your time in choosing the right level of cover.

What are 3 advantages of private health insurance? ›

Benefits of private health insurance
  • More health cover and choice.
  • Pay less tax.
  • Get a private health insurance rebate.
  • Avoid paying more for cover when you're older.
18 Aug 2021

Why do people choose private insurance? ›

Private health insurance policies are more flexible than group policies, and give the policyholders more options as to which doctor or medical facility to visit. There are also more options on the market, so policyholders have more plans and a wider network of providers to choose from.

Why do people buy private health insurance? ›

Private health insurers cover some of the costs of treatment for private patients. Treatment can be in private or public hospitals. Health insurance can cover some services not usually covered by Medicare, such as: dental and orthodontics.

Which private health insurance is best in UK? ›

List of the best private health insurance companies
  1. BUPA. BUPA is one of the largest and best private healthcare insurance companies in the UK. ...
  2. Aviva. With 33 million customers globally, Aviva is the biggest insurance company in the UK. ...
  3. AXA PPP. ...
  4. WPA. ...
  5. Saga. ...
  6. Vitality. ...
  7. Freedom Health Insurance. ...
  8. The Exeter.

What is the average cost of private health care UK? ›

The average yearly premium on private health insurance is around £1,500. This works out at about £125 a month, but lots of people pay much less. The amount you pay depends on your insurer, what's covered on your policy and your own circumstances and current state of health.

What is private healthcare like in the UK? ›

Private health care in the UK offers customers access to an extensive range of private medical treatments and facilities to the cost of the patient. Unlike the NHS, private healthcare treatment isn't paid by the UK government, but it offers numerous associated benefits.

What is the greatest disadvantage of private healthcare services? ›

As you might expect, the greatest disadvantage of private health insurance can be the cost. This is especially true if you are in poor health and do not have access to group coverage of any kind. Many individual policies can cost several hundred dollars a month, and family coverage can be even higher.

What are the 5 main types of private insurance? ›

Types of Health Insurance Plans: HMO, PPO, HSA, Fee for Service, POS.

Can I go back to NHS after private? ›

Seeing a specialist privately doesn't affect your place on an NHS waiting list. If you're thinking about having private treatment, you can have a private consultation and then make a decision to either wait for NHS treatment or go ahead and pay for private treatment.

Does private healthcare cover A&E? ›

Does health insurance cover emergency care? No - private health insurance only covers you for non-emergency treatment and care. If you have new symptoms which require emergency care, you should visit A&E or a private urgent care centre as normal and get the help you need.

Does NHS treat private patients? ›

the NHS cannot pay for or subsidise your private hospital treatment. there must be as clear a separation as possible between your private treatment and your NHS treatment. your position on an NHS waiting list should not be affected if you choose to have a private consultation.

What is not covered by private health? ›

By law, private health insurance does not offer cover for out-of-hospital medical services including: GP visits. consultations with specialists in their rooms. out-of-hospital diagnostic imaging and tests.

Why is private insurance better than government? ›

Any health insurance plan offered by a private general insurance company instead of the government is known as a private health plan. These plans provide access to the higher sum insured and advanced medical care, usually at a higher premium.

Is private health better than public? ›

Public hospitals may have better medical facilities for your condition than private hospitals and are usually equipped to handle more complex cases. For these reasons, public hospitals are usually the first choice for emergencies or acute health issues.

Is it worth paying for BUPA? ›

Bupa health insurance – Key benefits

Cover more mental health conditions than any other insurer. Cover includes therapies and mental health cover as standard. Health advice is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Access to breakthrough cancer drugs and treatment.

What is good about private health care? ›

Private health care services reduce the burden placed on others and offer the support they need to ensure that their loved ones receive the highest level of care. These services help family members complete tasks related to feeding, bathing, and dressing patients.

What are 5 Pros for private insurance? ›

Pros of Private Health Insurance
  • Choosing Your Own Doctor. Depending on the type of insurance, the private healthcare system may allow you to select a doctor within or outside your network. ...
  • Shorter Wait Times. ...
  • Improved Facilities. ...
  • Unrestricted Visiting Hours. ...
  • Private Rooms. ...
  • Higher Costs. ...
  • Inequalities. ...
  • Limited Coverage.
30 Mar 2018

What are two advantages of private health insurance? ›

More choice and control for your healthcare

Private health cover gives you more choice and control if you need to go to hospital. You'll be able to choose your doctor, preferred hospital and the timing of your procedure (subject to availability). You may also be able to request a private room.

Is private healthcare more efficient? ›

Most evidence suggests that public hospitals are at least as efficient as or are more efficient than private hospitals.

What is not covered by private health insurance UK? ›

There are certain conditions that most insurers won't cover treatment costs for, as well as pre-existing and chronic conditions, and cosmetic surgery. Some of which include: Accident and emergency treatment. Allergies, allergic disorders or food intolerances.

Who is the largest private healthcare provider in the UK? ›

HCA Healthcare in the UK

Today HCA is the largest private healthcare provider in the world, and one of the leading private healthcare providers in the UK. Its founding philosophy of putting patients first has guided it every day since 1968.

Can you go private without health insurance UK? ›

You can get private hospital treatment without private health insurance, as a 'self paying' patient, which means paying for the treatment yourself with credit card, cash or cheque, usually on or before admission to the hospital.

How much is a private hospital per night UK? ›

A typical private hospital stay is around £275 per night.

Can you pay for private healthcare in UK? ›

Most UK residents are entitled to free healthcare from the NHS. But many people also take out private medical insurance, which covers the costs of being treated by private healthcare providers.

How much is private care per hour UK? ›

The price of home care services, also known as domiciliary care and in-home care, varies depending on where you live but you should expect to pay an average of between £20 to £30 for the hourly cost of care at home. Depending on your needs, home care can often be cheaper than going into residential care.

Which country has the best private healthcare? ›

According to this index, the ten countries with the best health care are:
  • Denmark.
  • Austria.
  • Japan.
  • Australia.
  • France.
  • Spain.
  • Belgium.
  • United Kingdom.

What problems do people face in private hospital? ›

Solution. We have to pay a lot of money for every/service that we use in private hospitals. Sometimes doctors advise costly tests which are not required for the diagnosis.

What is the most common private health insurance? ›

The most common type of private health plan is employer-sponsored health insurance.

Which insurance is best for health? ›

Best Health Insurance Plans in India
Health Insurance PlansEntry Age (Min-Max)Network Hospitals
SBI Arogya Premier Policy3 months – 65 years6000+
Star Family Health Optima Plan18-65 years9900+
Tata AIG MediCare Plan-4000+
United India UNI CritiCare Health Care Plan18-65 years7000+
20 more rows

What is an example of private health insurance? ›

Private health insurance is primarily funded through benefits plans provided by employers. Examples include: Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance companies. Non-Blue commercial health insurance companies.

Why do people use private healthcare UK? ›

Private healthcare offers patients the benefit of choice. Whether it be choice of hospital, treatment and drugs (many not offered on the NHS due to costs), time and location that is convenient for patients. All help to provide a tailored healthcare service.

How much does private healthcare cost per month UK? ›

The average yearly premium on private health insurance is around £1,500. This works out at about £125 a month, but lots of people pay much less. The amount you pay depends on your insurer, what's covered on your policy and your own circumstances and current state of health.

Can you use NHS if you have private health insurance? ›

Thankfully, if you take out private health insurance, you're still eligible to use the NHS when you need to. It may be you need emergency treatment or you're receiving treatment that doesn't have a long waiting list where the NHS offers the best options.

What does private healthcare get you in the UK? ›

Health insurance can get you access to new drugs or specialist treatments that aren't yet available on the NHS, and you'll often be treated faster. Private healthcare can offer you choice, as well as comforts like a private room, or treatment in your local private hospital.

Is BUPA worth getting? ›

Bupa health insurance – Key benefits

Cover more mental health conditions than any other insurer. Cover includes therapies and mental health cover as standard. Health advice is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Access to breakthrough cancer drugs and treatment.

How much does private care cost in UK? ›

Generally, live-in care fees start at around £900 to £1,400 per week but can be as much as £2,000 per week. How much 24-hour care at home is will vary between individuals as the cost varies depending on your needs, what services you require and what provider you choose.


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