We all know that in many ways our National Health Service can be excellent and the standard of medical care beyond compare. There is a recent item of news that may cause you to reflect. Private hospitals come out better than NHS hospitals in the Care Quality Commissions recent report – private hospitals are meeting standards 81.7% vs. NHS at 77.5% (better by 5.4%!).

We do know that from time to time the health service can come under great pressure and often waiting times and standards vary according to where you live and work.

Whether a person has private health insurance or can afford to pay for treatment themselves, most people want to have the choice of consultant and hospital and, if their treatment is not urgent, most people also want to go into hospital at a time of their choosing. This is particularly relevant for corporate policyholders where the sickness of employees and their lost time from work is an added burden.

So informed choice is key. Of course, in theory NHS patients now have more say in where they are treated and by whom, in practice there is generally a great deal more choice in the private sector.

Choosing the right private hospital is of course important (see How to Choose a Hospital) and so is choosing an appropriate consultant (see How to Choose a Consultant). In a good private hospital you will only be treated by a specialist and who holds or will have held, a consultant appointment within the NHS.

Nursing care too will be different with, generally, a higher number of nurses per patient and, frequently, nurses with greater experience.

There are of course, many other benefits of private healthcare. For the most part diagnostic and treatment technology is state of the art and more up to date than in some NHS hospitals that do not have access to the same budgets to enable them to buy new equipment. There is a deal more privacy in a private hospital and patients have the benefit of far better ‘hotel services’ – things like the choice of food and facilities in private rooms or even suites where a member of family can stay.

Private hospitals are usually smaller than the regional or larger district NHS hospitals. With fewer patients and mostly with individual rooms, it is easier to keep private hospitals clean and safe from hospital acquired infections.

However, the choice of private hospital should be made on the advice of the consultant who will know exactly what facilities are available and where there is the best “team” organisation most suited to the patient’s condition. Insurers may sometimes attempt to direct patients to a specific hospital that may not be entirely the most suitable because of restrictions within their insurance. This should be discussed carefully with the consultant.

How does this work for you?

When you see your GP and he or she says you need to see a specialist, mention that you either have private medical insurance or that you want to pay for your treatment privately. Your GP will usually make a recommendation about a consultant who is appropriate for your particular condition and where he or she has their private practice.

And finally, even if you are insured, listen to the advice of your family GP and don’t be dictated to by your insurer about the consultant you should see or the treatment you should be having. That is very much the doctor’s job – not the insurers! (See our Top Issue).


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