We are incredibly fortunate in the UK that we have the NHS, which is there for us when we fall ill. However, there may be times when you choose to have private healthcare treatment instead – for example, if you want more flexibility in when or where your care takes place, or if the treatment you want is not available on the NHS.

Here are some answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about private healthcare.

Private healthcare in the UK is consultant led, and patient directed.  This means that you will have more direct contact with your chosen consultant instead of their team, and your consultant will personally care for you with your involvement.

Typically, your first appointment will be with a private consultant. Together you will decide whether any diagnostic tests (such as blood tests or scans) are needed to make a diagnosis or treatment plan.  If treatment is recommended, you will have the choice whether to choose private treatment or have NHS-funded care (provided you are eligible for this). 

If you choose private treatment, you will be contacted by the hospital with information about how you can pay, and when your treatment will take place.  After treatment you will usually  have a follow-up consultation to make sure that your recovery is going well.

No, not at all. Many patients choose to self-pay for their treatment, or in some cases they can be sponsored by a third party (for instance their employer, or their home country’s government or embassy). As long as the funding is in place beforehand, and your chosen consultant accepts your referral, you can be seen privately.

If you do choose to use your healthcare insurance, it is always worth checking what is covered by your insurance provider, as you will still have to pay for any care that isn’t covered by your policy.

This depends on the condition you have. For example, if you are looking for something like cosmetic surgery (not a service we offer at UCLH Private Healthcare), you can appoint a private consultant without going through a GP. However, if you are investigating a medical condition, in most instances you are advised to get your referral through your GP, to make sure you are seen by a doctor with the correct knowledge and skills. 

A private referral can be made by your NHS GP or by a private GP. Some consultants will accept a referral directly from the patient, but more often they will only accept a referral if it has come from a GP or another hospital doctor.

If you already know the name of a consultant you are interested in seeing, they may have their own website or can be found via internet search engines. Some, like many at UCLH, may offer private appointments at the NHS hospital where they are based (the NHS receives an income from this treatment). This is more likely in London hospitals and clinics. Other consultants will be based in one or more private hospitals. All hospitals with a private service will have a directory of consultants for you to search by specialty, or a phone line that you can call for information. There are also online directories specifically for private healthcare providers, although these are not necessarily complete lists.

Your GP may suggest someone that is suitable for your symptoms or condition, or you may find that someone recommends a suitable consultant to you. Support and information groups for particular conditions, often online, may also have a directory of consultants with the right specialist knowledge.

If you have private medical insurance, your insurer should be able to provide you with information about suitable consultants in your area.

Alternatively, if you are not sure where to begin then you can visit the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) which has information about all the consultants working privately in the UK, their specialisms and where they work.

It is very common for consultants to work privately in more than one facility, especially in and around London. The majority of consultants working in private practice also work in the NHS, and may offer private services at their NHS hospital as well as in other private facilities or hospitals.

You might pick the hospital or facility first, and then finds a suitable consultant, or you might choose your consultant, and then decide where to see them and/or be treated. Your chosen consultant or their secretary should be able let you know what your options are.

Ultimately the decision about which consultant you see is yours. However, your GP or NHS hospital doctor may make some recommendations based on your clinical needs, especially if there are particular specialists that understand your condition.

If you are using health insurance, your insurance company may offer a limited choice depending on which consultants are covered by your policy.

It is always worth doing your own research about the consultants that are recommended to you before you commit to your treatment.

Your NHS consultant will be able to advise on the sort of treatment options available for your condition, and this might include some which are only available privately.  If you want to consider private care, you need to ask this question directly.

Your consultant should never actively promote their private work when representing the NHS. However, if you ask them about the possibility of private care, they are able to talk to you about the private services that they, or other colleagues, can provide.

If you have private treatment in an NHS hospital, the NHS states that “there must be as clear a separation as possible between your private treatment and your NHS treatment”

This means that as far as possible, your care should be provided either in a private room, a distinct part of the hospital or at clinics that are running after NHS hours.  There may also be dedicated facilities for private patients in some NHS hospitals.

In terms of the difference in service, there should be no difference in the quality of clinical care you receive.

However, as a private patient you may be able to be seen faster than on the NHS, have more flexibility in appointment times, and you will receive a consultant-led service from a consultant of your choice. You can expect your care to be managed directly by your consultant, and for any major procedures to be carried out by that consultant, whereas in the NHS service you may receive more of your care from more junior team members, though always under the supervision of a consultant.

In some cases, as a private patient you may be able to access a service that is not routinely available on the NHS.

If you are an inpatient, then you will usually have a private room, with some enhanced services such as different menus, or additional TV channels.

The cost will vary considerably, depending on the condition you are being seen for and the the diagnostic tests and treatment that you need. You will need to book an initial consultation and that may lead to some diagnostic work, for example an x-ray, blood tests or an MRI scan, to assess your condition. Each of these elements will need to be paid for, and if you are self-funding your care you should be informed in advance of the cost of each element.  It is important that you know the costs of each test or treatment before receiving the care, as you will be liable for these costs. 

After diagnostics have been completed, your consultant will be able to help you to understand the treatment options available to you, and these can then be priced up before you decide whether to go ahead with your care privately, or have your treatment on the NHS instead (if you are eligible).

It is important to note that, in private healthcare, your consultant(s) and the hospital facility will usually charge separately for their respective services (so, for instance, you will usually pay your consultant for each consultation, and for carrying out any procedures on you, and you will pay the hospital separately for diagnostic tests, the cost of your nursing and hospital stay, and for the provision of operating theatre services, etc.). So, if you have a surgical procedure, you are likely to be charged separately by the consultant surgeon, consultant anaesthetist, and the hospital.  

For some common procedures, hospitals may offer a fixed price package, like a maternity package or a cataract operation, which give you you some assurance about the total potential cost of your care. However, the final cost of many treatments will still vary, depending on exactly how much treatment or drugs you need, or how long you need to stay in hospital. In many cases you will be given an estimate in advance of your treatment and asked to pay a deposit. Your final bill can only be given to you at the end of your treatment, but you will be kept informed of any additional costs as you go.

To get a cost for your initial consultation at UCLH, you can speak to one of the team at uclh.private.enquiries@nhs.net

The short answer is no. Private care may speed up the diagnostic process but you will join the NHS waiting list for treatment at the same point as if you would have done after an NHS diagnosis, and be seen according to your clinical need and in line with the overall waiting list. Seeing a consultant privately, whether in a private or NHS hospital, does not give you any additional benefits in terms of jumping the queue for subsequent NHS treatment.

When you transfer to NHS care, you may be allocated to the care of another consultant’s team, or you may end up staying with the same consultant, depending on waiting lists and consultant availability. There is no obligation on the hospital to allocate you to the same consultant. In receiving NHS care you may not have as much direct involvement from your consultant and may receive more of your care from the wider clinical team.

Most of the income covers the cost of running the private facilities and services, for instance, paying for nursing and support staff, facilities costs etc, and for the drugs or medical equipment required to carry out your treatment. The surplus generated over and above these running costs is retained by UCLH NHS Foundation Trust and distributed to NHS departments to be used to develop services for the benefit of all of our patients.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us at uclh.private.enquiries@nhs.net