Can anyone get private health insurance in the UK?

Can anyone get private health insurance in the UK?

by Laura Jones

Updated November 8, 2022

Who takes care of you if you get ill in the UK? Is it free or do you need private health insurance?

Most people know that the UK has universal healthcare, meaning medical treatment is free at the point of use. However, some people who live in the UK choose to get private health insurance. It’s important to remember that private health insurance is a choice in the UK, no one has to get it. If you are interested, here’s some things to know about private health insurance in the UK. 

What does private health insurance in the UK cover?

Basic private health insurance covers the costs of most tests and surgeries. Some policies also cover specialists’ fees and cash-back if you spend the night in an NHS hospital. Basically, the more you pay, the more services you can access. You can add-in things like treatment for mental health problems or for sports injuries.

Private insurance doesn’t usually cover long-term conditions like asthma and arthritis, no matter how much you pay! Buying private health insurance in the UK is a bit like buying a fast pass for a theme park. You get to jump the queue, but it only works on some rides. 

Who uses private health insurance?

Around 4 million people in the UK have private health insurance. Some large companies provide their employees with this as part of their benefits package. But, a lot of people pay for it themselves. 

It is also possible for people to choose to have certain one-off operations privately. This is done by simply paying for the operation – you don’t have to have private insurance to do this. More older people in the UK tend to choose this option than younger people, and the operations are often things like knee replacements or cataract surgeries.  

The cost of private health insurance in the UK

The average cost of private health insurance in the UK is just less than £1500 per year. Lots of things affect the cost of this insurance, for example your age, where in the UK you live, your health status and the lifestyle you lead. You also choose what you want the private insurance to cover; like we said before, the more it covers, the more expensive it will be. You can choose how much excess you want to pay too. Excess is money you have to pay for private treatment before your health insurance starts paying. Often this is around £500 per year. A one-off payment for a knee replacement costs around £11,000 and cataract surgery costs about £2,500. 

Private hospitals in the UK

If you have private health insurance, you can usually choose which hospital you go to. You can also choose a time and date for your treatment and make sure it is convenient for you. Private hospitals in the UK are like hotels; the rooms are always just for you with an ensuite bathroom, you have a big choice of meals and you can have visitors whenever you want.


If you choose not to take out private health insurance in the UK, you will probably use the NHS (The National Health Service). The NHS is free for UK residents and some of its services are free for non-UK residents too. This includes accident and emergency services, treating many communicable diseases and family planning. However, if you are visiting the UK, you should take out travel insurance to make sure you’re covered for everything.  

The pros of private health insurance

  • You can get treatment faster than with the NHS for certain conditions. This is not generally true for children, who are given priority within the NHS.
  •  You might be able to get scans, medicines and treatments which are not available on the NHS, especially expensive or very new treatments.
  • In theory, you can choose your hospital, doctor and surgeon.
  • You often get treatment in private hospitals and won’t have to share a hospital room.

The cons of private health insurance

  • It doesn’t usually cover chronic or long-term conditions such as diabetes and many cancers.
  • It is expensive, especially if you want to cover your whole family. 
  • The NHS has results that are as good as or better than private hospitals for many serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease.
  • The treatment you want might not be available near where you live.

So, what do you think? Would you get private health insurance if you lived in the UK or would you use the NHS like most residents of Britain?

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