How does Private Medical Insurance work with the NHS?

3 mins

Few would disagree, we are privileged in this country to have access to free, lifesaving healthcare and incredible individuals caring for us. Whilst most of us wouldn’t remember a time when this wasn’t the case – and may well be guilty of a culture-wide complacency at times – the value is enormous. One only has to walk into a US ‘Emergency Room’ for a sharp reminder of the costs we could all be facing.

There are also few who would disagree – our national institution faces a significant issue of being overstretched. As Lord David Prior, Chair of NHS England says himself in the NHS England 2018/19 Annual Report: “Healthcare systems in all developed countries are under growing pressure from ageing populations and slowing economic growth… The NHS has not been immune.” He goes on to say: “We have to face the facts: waiting times are going up… It is too difficult to see a GP and health inequalities are too great.” [1] And this was before the far reaching ramifications of a global pandemic.

According to Seth Rankin, NHS Doctor and private practitioner: “The solution is really very simple – pay to go private and you will help ease the burden on the NHS.” [2]

The solution may be ‘simple’ but none-the-less confusion often surrounds the relationship, so we have collected some of the most common questions below about how private medical cover works alongside the NHS.

If I use Private Healthcare do I sacrifice my right to NHS treatment?

Absolutely not: this could not be further from the truth. Private healthcare never competes with the NHS, it complements and works hand-in-hand with it; you would never lose your entitlement to NHS treatment because you use the private sector as well. You can tailor your private medical insurance to integrate more or less within the NHS, and emergencies and chronic conditions would always be treated on the NHS. Since the beginning of the NHS in 1948, the private sector has always viewed itself as complementary.

Why would I pay more for healthcare when I already pay in taxes?

The NHS is great at dealing with emergencies, chronic conditions, pregnancy and the big, essential, life saving things; that will always be available to you and never a waste of your National Insurance contributions. But with our health arguably our most important asset, and insurance plans available for much less than most people imagine, private medical insurance offers so much more than the fundamentals which are covered by the NHS.

Private medical can mean access to the latest pioneering cancer treatments, to digital GPs or ad-hoc mental health support. It means the comfort of a private en-suite room and à la carte menus, or the convenience of fitting in a GP appointment at the last minute around your meeting schedule. It’s making the most of regular physiotherapy, or various additional benefits of gym memberships or nutritionist advice, or choosing which consultant or hospital you would prefer for treatment. Private medical is going beyond the basic and prioritising your health and wellbeing.

Will the NHS lose out if I opt for private treatment?

On the contrary, every treatment taken privately, directly reduces the strain on the NHS. Rankin goes so far as to suggest; “If, as a society, we are looking for convenience over essential healthcare, is it our moral duty to pay for it? Perhaps.” [3] And he could well have a point; does that GP letter to approve someone fit to run the Paris marathon, or the appointment for vaccinations for an exotic holiday, really fall inside the realm of the founding principles of the NHS?

There are also even private wards within NHS hospitals, which help to fund NHS trusts, as well as maximise the benefits of consultants and facilities between the two.

So as we celebrate three quarters of a century of our iconic light blue institution, perhaps it is a good opportunity to reflect on what we can do long term, to support the NHS and prioritise our own health.


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