Here in the UK, we seem to have a peculiar British habit of complaining about the NHS whilst simultaneously championing the right to free health care. For the 11% of the population (figures from 2009) who have purchased private medical insurance, it’s less about taking our free national health service for granted but rather the freedom to have more choice about when, where and how they receive treatment should anything occur. As the war rages on about the best form of medical care, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both public and private health care.
Advantages of the NHS
A free service: Funded by the UK tax payer, the NHS is free at the point of delivery, although charges for prescriptions apply. As David Cameron said in 2009: “No matter who you are, where you are from or how much money you’ve got – you know that the NHS will look after you.”
Range of health care services: The NHS covers everything from flu and vaccinations, to mental illness and specialised treatment of illnesses and diseases. You can also receive treatment at any hospital or centre in the UK.
Disadvantages of the NHS
Long waiting times: Whilst the NHS aims to care for everyone, as a result its resources can become seriously overstretched with waiting times for treatment and even consultations with specialists. Urgent cases will be seen promptly, however, if you are less severely effected you may face increased waiting times.
Stress: An NHS patient may suffer from stress and discomfort as a result of longer waiting times for treatment. It is impossible to measure the long term effect this can have on a patients’ recovery time and mental and physical health.
Some additional costs: Although the majority of NHS services are free, you may have to pay for alternative treatments such as acupuncture or homeopathy which are often offered as part-and-parcel of a private medical care system.
Advantages of Private Health Care:
Shorter waiting times: The NHS has worked hard to reduce waiting times in recent years but its policy still states that patients can wait a maximum of 18 weeks for treatment from the point of initial referral. Private Health care has significantly shorter waiting times giving you treatment when you need it.
Flexible appointment times: Private medical care gives you appointments when you want it; after working hours in the evening or the weekends so you don’t have to take time off work.
Choice of treatment location: You can decide where you wish to be treated; near family, home or work perhaps.
Consultants of your choice: Those seeking private medical care have access to the specific consultants they wish to see and most likely be treated by the same consultant throughout. Alternatively, as an NHS patient you will only be referred to a consultant may if your problem is complex
Peace of mind: For you and your family that you are receiving the best treatment possible.
Privacy and comfort: Those treated within the private health care system will often be given their own room helping you relax during a stressful period.
Disadvantages of Private Medical Care
Expense: Treatment though a private medical care service can prove costly, unless covered by private medical insurance.
Some waiting times: A specialist consultant could be in high demand particularly at busy times such as after work or at weekends.
So, where do all these pros and cons leave the average UK person? Ultimately, deciding whether to stick with the NHS or go private is a personal decision. As with deciding on any insurance policy, individuals must weigh up the risk involved should anything unexpected occur – how comfortable would you feel if you or your family had to be treated by the NHS in an emergency situation? Private medical insurance can offer peace of mind to policy holders who can be reassured they are entitled to prompt treatment and the best service.
Most significantly, the decision to go private will also be largely swayed by financial costs. Most people in the UK can not realistically afford the advantages of private treatment unless covered by private medical insurance – bought through a company or individual medical insurance scheme. A private medical insurance policy is usually paid for in affordable small monthly installments.
There are many companies offering company, family and individual private medical insurance, all offering differing levels of cover. Selecting the best for your circumstances can be a confusing process and it is worth talking to a private medical insurance broker who can compare a broad range of policies to put you in touch with the best for your needs.