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Should you go private - healthcare

You can get private health treatment for any medical condition, providing you can pay for it. This could include treatment in a private hospital, by a medical specialist or GP. It could also include dental treatment, counselling and psychotherapy, physiotherapy, or treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.

This page tells you what to consider if you’re thinking about getting private healthcare.

Top tips

Private healthcare abroad

You may want to have private health treatment abroad, either because it is cheaper than the cost of the treatment in the UK, or it is only available abroad, or because you are moving abroad to live. Do your research and make sure you know what the risks are.

Why go private?

You might want to get private health treatment when:

  • the treatment isn't available on the NHS. For example, cosmetic surgery
  • there's a long NHS waiting list and you don't want to wait
  • you want to choose the date for a hospital operation
  • you want to be treated by a consultant of your choice
  • you want a second opinion on treatment you've had on the NHS
  • health screening.

Things to think about first

Before getting private treatment, you might want to think about:

  • whether you can afford it. Unless you have private medical insurance, the cost is likely to be very high
  • whether you would be able to meet any unexpected additional costs, for example, if you don't recover from an operation as quickly as expected and you have to stay in hospital longer
  • whether a private hospital could deal with any complications which might crop up during treatment - for example, does it have intensive care facilities?

Before deciding to have private treatment, talk to your GP and NHS doctors about what's available for future NHS treatment after the private treatment.

How to get private health treatment

To find a private medical practitioner you could:

  • ask your GP to refer you or give you details of someone who's an expert in the area of care you need. If you need to see a specialist, or have hospital treatment, you must be referred by a GP. The GP must tell you if they have a financial interest in the hospital or clinic they are referring you to
  • contact the professional association for the area of treatment you need
  • ask your local health authority for a list of all GPs in your area. This will include GPs who do private work. Alternatively, you could ask your own GP if they will treat you privately
  • look on the internet. The Independent Healthcare Advisory Services has a list of private health providers which may be a good starting point. Search under Our members.

Charges for private health treatment

A private health practitioner or hospital is responsible for setting their own charges. You can use the internet to help you find out what the appropriate charge should be for a particular kind of treatment.

Be clear about what you will be charged for

You should ask your practitioner what the charges will be in advance. This includes any extra charges for unforeseen events and complications. For example, if an operation takes twice as long as it should, will you have to pay extra. Write down the charges you are quoted so you have a written record.

If you have private healthcare, you should check whether the treatment is covered by your insurance policy.

Your practitioner has a legal duty of care towards you. This means that in an emergency, they must take reasonable steps to provide necessary treatment, even if this hasn't been agreed in advance. You will usually be charged for this treatment, although you should only have to pay a reasonable amount.

If you go into hospital

When you go into hospital for a private operation, you will usually be charged separately by:

  • your surgeon
  • an anaesthetist
  • the hospital. Hospital charges will include things like accommodation, meals, laundry, nurses, drugs, medication, X-rays and blood tests.

Sometimes, you can pay for private treatment in an NHS hospital. Charges will depend on the health authority, and on the hospital. The hospital charges will not include the practitioner's fees, for which you will be charged separately.

The hospital should give you an estimate of the likely cost of your stay, and may ask you to pay a deposit in advance, unless you have insurance and the insurance company has written to the hospital confirming that it will cover the costs. If the final bill is more than the deposit, you will have to pay the difference. If it is less, you should receive a refund.

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