Private healthcare providers have seen growth of between 15%-25% in the number of people choosing to “self-pay” for medical treatment.

That’s according to recent research by specialist private healthcare and medical travel publisher, Intuition Communcations.

The company polled all the leading UK healthcare providers, updating over 5,000 prices for the most popular self-pay treatments, and medical and diagnostic procedures.

“Providers have noted a direct correlation at a local level between reported excessive waiting times for surgery and demand for self-pay surgery.

“Widely publicised restrictions on NHS funding for cancer drugs is fuelling the growth in self-pay oncology [cancer treatment)”

Private Healthcare UK Self-Pay Market Study.

Its report made a direct link between the increase in local waiting list times and demand for self-pay surgery.

Keith Pollard, chief executive of Intuition Communications told The Guardian newspaper: “There’s no doubt that NHS waiting lists are at the heart of this growth in self-pay.”

Is self-pay private healthcare a good choice for you?

Self-paying your private medical treatment costs can certainly bring you benefits.

First and foremost among those is the ability to be seen quickly by a specialist. You won’t need to join a waiting list which could run into months.

Having relaxed its targets, the NHS last year saw more than four million people waiting for planned “non urgent” hospital care within a new  and extended 18 week guarantee period.

The Kings Fund estimates that around 15% of all patients must wait longer than 18 weeks to be treated,

One Bristol GP also reported this month that patients in her area had to wait 20 weeks or longer to receive physiotherapy treatment. As she noted, not only might hey be in acute pain or suffering loss of function, their ailment or injury could be keeping them off work.

So “jumping the queue” may for them be seen less as of a luxury and more of a necessity: if they can afford it.

And therein lies the rub. Private healthcare costs can be high.

The cost of treatment by a private physiotherapist in London can reach as high as £125 according to specialists, Capital Physio. The average price of a course of treatment ranges across the UK from £225 to £420.


But the price of private physiotherapy is buttons in comparison to some private medical treatment costs. We’ve detailed before just how much private healthcare treatments can cost.

Say that physiotherapy can’t fix a knee problem and you need surgery. The bill for a knee replacement? Including surgical and anaesthetic fees, accommodation and facility charges, that’ll be £16,409 with Freedom Healthcare.

Yes, you read that right. Sixteen thousand, four hundred and nine pounds.

Ouch and ouch again.

So if you’re weighing up the benefits of self-pay private healthcare versus private health insurance, your ability to pay what might be substantial medical bills is clearly a major factor.

Is private medical insurance better than self-pay private healthcare?

There is no simple answer to that question.

Self-paying gives you flexibility and freedom. You can be seen quickly by a specialist at a hospital of your choosing. You won’t need

But – and it’s quite a big but – should you fall ill or suffer an injury that requires treatment, you might need to dig deep to settle the bill.

Private health insurance can prevent those unexpected financial shocks. In return for your monthly premium, you benefit from the reassurance that you won’t need then stump up the cost of private healthcare should you need receive a treatment covered by your policy.

What sort of things does private health insurance cover?

The conditions covered and the treatments offered will vary between health insurers and the various policies they offer.

But it’s important to remember that private health insurance is designed to cover acute conditions. An acute medical condition is a disease, illness or injury which is sudden or severe. Usually such conditions will respond relatively quickly to treatment.

On the other hand, chronic conditions are not normally covered. These are long-term health issues which may require similarly long-term monitoring and treatment.

A notable exception to this general rule is cancer. Many medical insurance policies now provide cover for the treatment of cancer although, of course, access to, and the limits of, care vary.

Some policies can even provide patients with drugs that are not available on the NHS.

If you did not have a health insurance policy with cancer cover and wanted to self-pay for private medical treatment, you might need deep pockets.

Last year The Mirror newspaper estimated that the cost of private cancer care. It found that an eight round course of chemotherapy would cost well over £2,000.

You might also then need budget for the radiotherapy which often complements chemotherapy and the cost arising from any possible complications. For example, as chemotherapy affects your immune system you may be more susceptible to infections which require treatment – and need to be paid for.

Another point to remember about private health insurance is that if you have a pre-existing medical condition, this will not usually be covered. There are exceptions to what is a general rule, so if you fit in this category you should ask what is and isn’t covered before you take out a policy.

But many conditions and their treatments will be covered depending on the insurer and policy you choose.

Returning to physiotherapy, you’ll find that many policies include some level of access to treatment – without a 20+ week wait.

In contrast, a cheap health insurance quote for one of the more basic policies, might exclude outpatient treatments. This could be an important factor for you.

When weighing things up it might be worth considering, then, that the vast majority of GP referrals do not require patients to be admitted to hospital.


Ways to lower the cost of private medical insurance

If the cost of monthly premiums is pushing you towards self-pay medical treatment, it’s worth knowing there are ways to get a cheaper health insurance quote.

One is to agree to pay a higher excess. This is the amount you will pay towards the cost of any claim you make. Increase your excess and you can be rewarded with a more cheap health insurance quote.

Many insurers also offer a choice of hospital lists. If you are willing to accept a list which offers less choice, then this will reduce your quote.

Otherwise it’s a matter of limiting the level or type of cover. For example, if you are happy to be diagnosed under the NHS and only receive actual medical treatment privately, this can save you money.

Being and staying healthy is, literally a bonus. As with other insurance policies, you can often earn a no claims bonus. A number of policies also now reward those who demonstrate they are living a healthy lifestyle. This might be backed up by the use of exercise trackers such as FitBits.

Choosing between self-pay and private health insurance

At the end of the day only you can decide if self-pay private healthcare is a better option for you than health insurance.

Much will undoubtedly depend on both your physical and financial health. You might balance the risks and accept that should you be diagnosed with, say, cancer, you’d be willing and able to pay for private treatment.

On the other hand private health insurance, provides reassurance that if you need treatment for which you’re covered, you’ll not need dip into your hard-earned savings.

Health insurance is undoubtedly more complex. Self-pay is nothing more than a rudimentary transaction; you need treatment and you pay for it. In contrast not only are there many health insurers from which to choose, each also offers a variety of cover options.

When you’re looking to compare heath insurance quotes, it can be difficult to see the wood from the trees.

That’s where we come in.

As an independent, multi-award-winning specialist insurance broker, Towergate Health & Protection can provide you with expert and independent advice.

We are what’s known as a “whole of market” broker. That means we can compare health insurance quotes from right across the market. Sometimes that can include promotions that you cannot buy direct from an insurer.

Having discussed your own particular concerns and needs, we can secure quotes from the UK’s leading private health insurers on your behalf. These include April UK, AXA PPP Healthcare, Aviva, Bupa, General & Medical, PHC, Vitality and WPA.

What’s more our professional and impartial service is free to you.


  • If you’d like to discuss the merits of self-pay private healthcare versus those offered by private medical insurance, why not give our specialist team a call on 0800 018 3633?





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