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How much do private medical treatments cost in the UK?

We’ve had a look at the cost of UK medical treatments to give you an idea of how much you could expect to pay if you choose to go private

A photo of Dom Limberg, the author

By Dom Limberg

Published on: 3 October 2023

9 min read

How much do private medical treatments cost in the UK?

It’s pretty worrying how stretched the NHS is at the moment and it’s becoming more likely that we may all end up paying for some form of private medical care in the future.

The NHS is finding it tough to keep up with the amount of people waiting for treatment following the effects of the pandemic. Thousands of people are now waiting weeks or even months longer for medical treatment, which is why so many UK consumers are now considering private healthcare as an alternative.

I know I personally don’t have thousands of pounds put to the side just in case I need a hip replacement or even a minor surgery – and I doubt most people do! This is where products like private health insurance can be extremely useful, helping to cut the costs so you’re not left with huge, unmanageable bills if you become unwell.

We’ve had a look at prices for medical treatments across the UK to help give you an idea of how much you could expect to pay for various treatments if you choose to go private.

QUICK SUMMARY – How much do private medical treatments cost in the UK?

Let’s be honest, private medical care can be very pricey and it’s not going to be everyone’s first choice because of this. The NHS does their best and hopefully will be able to get back on top of their long waiting lists given more time, but this isn’t guaranteed.

Here’s the main things to know if you do decide to opt for private care to skip those long NHS queues:

  • Your postcode really matters – the cost of medical treatments can vary significantly depending on where you live in the UK
  • Your own health and any complications can also affect how much you pay for private treatments and consultations
  • You could pay the medical bills yourself – but this can be very expensive! Private health insurance is often a more affordable option to cover the costs

The thought has crossed my mind more than once recently that I’d be left seriously out of pocket if I need to pay for private medical treatments. Until looking into it I hadn’t been aware just how much certain procedures cost – you’re looking at paying a couple of 100 pounds just for a consultation.

I know I’m not the only one who hasn’t budgeted for these types of costs and honestly with the state of the NHS at the minute it’s a little worrying. The NHS are brilliant and they do try their best, but the pandemic hit them hard and even before that they were struggling to meet targets for waiting times.

Can I rely on the NHS for the medical treatment I need?

The NHS is filled with hard workers who are genuinely trying their best for their patients. In all honesty the NHS is probably one of the best achievements of the UK and it’s sad to see the way they’ve been struggling in recent years.

At the minute, NHS care will still be enough for most people to help them with their medical issues. You might have to wait a little bit longer for the treatment you need compared to if you went private though. Right now, NHS waiting times show:

  • Around 7.57million people are waiting for NHS medical treatments
  • More than three million NHS patients will wait over 18 weeks for treatment
  • over 380,000 people will wait more than one year for the treatment they need
  • Before the coronavirus pandemic people would wait around seven weeks on average treatment, this is doubled to over 14 weeks now

What do private medical treatments cost?

Private medical care is becoming more appealing because you’ll receive a treatment a lot quicker than on the NHS and will have access to highly qualified specialists. The main worry around private healthcare for most people will normally be the cost which is understandable.

Private medical treatments just aren’t that affordable without savings or insurance to back you up. It’s frustrating as of course we all want the best medical care for ourselves and our families. You also might not be aware of exactly how much you could expect to pay for certain treatments (I certainly wasn’t until I had a closer look into it).

This table shows examples of how much you might pay for specific private medical procedures based on average costs across the UK.

Private medical procedureAverage cost*
Ankle surgery£6,400
Carpal tunnel surgery£2,000
Cataract surgery£2,800
Consultations (with specialists)£200
Cruciate ligament reconstruction£7,500
Gallbladder removal£6,500
Hernia surgery£3,500
Hip replacement£13,500
Knee replacement (consultation)£1,400
Knee replacement (surgery)£14,700
Lumbar decompression (consultation)£1,300
Lumbar decompression (surgery)£6.500
Shoulder replacement£13.500
Source: Net Doctor – How much will a private operation cost?

Does where I live affect how much I pay for hospital treatment?

Yes, where you live is one of the main things that will affect how much you pay. it does feel a bit unfair especially if you could get the same procedure for much less if you lived 100 miles away.

If you live in the South of England and London in particular, you will normally pay more for health insurance. most of the main insurance providers will have a specific list of London hospitals that you can add onto your policy for an extra cost.

Do I need to have health insurance for private medical care?

No, you have to have health insurance if you want to pay for private medical care but it can be helpful. If you don’t have a lot of savings or disposable income, health insurance can help significantly lower the cost of private medical treatments.

Here’s the main options the how you can pay for your own private medical treatments.

1. Use private health insurance

This is the main route that people choose and we would suggest considering it as it’s generally more affordable for most people. Health insurance is designed to help lower the cost of private medical treatments and will usually cover some or all of the expense.

It does mean committing to paying monthly or yearly premiums, so consider whether you can afford these regular payments. You should also think about how much you could potentially pay if you don’t have health insurance and needed private treatment.

Whether health insurance is worth it is a very personal decision, and it won’t be the right choice for everyone. If you’re someone who’s generally healthy and doesn’t often need medical treatment you might decide it’s not worth it for you.

2. Pay for it yourself

This won’t be an option for everybody because of how expensive private treatment can be. If you have some savings or a family member or friend willing to loan you the money, you will be able to pay for treatment yourself.

It could be worse putting some money aside in case of medical issues happening, but you don’t expect. Again, this won’t work for everybody which is why generally unless you have quite a high income people tend to opt more for insurance or loans.

3. Get a private medical loan

You can speak to the private hospital or specialist to see if they’re able to offer a loan or credit option. If you don’t want to commit to an insurance policy this could be a way to spread the costs.

How is the cost of private medical treatments worked out?

The main question we aiming to answer on in this guide is how much you could expect to pay if you needed private magical treatment. It’s not as straightforward to answer as you might think and there are quite a few things that will affect the cost of private medical care.

  1. Where you live – it might seem a bit annoying or unfair, but your post code is going to have a big impact on price. this is because medical treatments will cost more in certain areas such as London.
  2. If the treatment you need is more complicated – it makes sense that surgeries that take longer or are a bit more complex will cost more than a simple surgery would.
  3. The hospital’s going to charge fees – the hospital workers have to get paid and if you want to see a specialist then the costs going to be a bit higher. If you need a complicated surgery or you’re high risk, you’ll need to speak to someone really experienced so that’s going to affect how much you pay.
  4. You might need medicine as well – we are all aware that the cost of basic medicines in chemists have gone up and it’s the same everywhere. If you need medication like pain relief or anaesthetic the cost of treatment will be a little higher.
  5. The hospital needs to pay for insurance – hospitals are like any other business and they need insurance in place to protect themselves in case anything goes wrong. They also need to protect against expensive medical equipment breaking or being stolen.
  6. You’re going to have to pay more for the best treatments – if your treatment requires advanced medical equipment or newer technologies, you going to have to pay a bit more.

Here’s the answer to some more questions that we often come across about how UK private medical care works.

Is private healthcare in the UK worth it?

It does really come down to personal choice as to whether private healthcare is worth it for you and the people you care about. one good thing about the UK is that we do have the NHS as an option for free healthcare.

Countries like America don’t have this option, which means thousands of people every year end up in debt because they can’t afford the cost of basic medical care. We’re very lucky in the UK that this isn’t our system, but it is possible that we may end up paying more for healthcare in the future.

Is private treatment better than the NHS?

There are aspects of private treatment that are better, but the NHS is very good at what they do. For most people NHS treatment will be enough, even if they do have to wait slightly longer for it.

There are some perks of private treatment though such as:

  • Having access to the most recent treatments (often drugs or procedures aren’t yet available on the NHS)
  • Private hospital rooms
  • Access to specialist consultants
  • Faster access to the treatment that you need
  • Less patients so you will have more one on one attention
  • High quality medical facilities and equipment

Can I see a consultant privately then go on to have treatment on the NHS?

Yes, most people aren’t aware that they can mix and match private and NHS medical treatments and care. If your main worry is getting diagnosed quickly but after that you don’t mind NHS treatment, it is something that’s possible.

This can be a good option if you’re worried about the cost, as the cost of diagnosis is likely to be less than the cost of treatment for most people.

This is actually quite a common question and there’s some guidance available on the NHS website. It states clearly that private patients are still entitled to the same level of NHS care and:

  • NHS treatment will still be free for you and you won’t be asked to pay towards NHS care (except where you would normally e.g. prescriptions)
  • There needs to be clear separation between private treatment and NHS treatment
  • Your position on an NHS waiting list won’t change if you decide to get a private medical opinion
  • The NHS won’t pay for or help cover the cost of your private treatment

More information – NHS – If I pay for private treatment, how will my NHS care be affected?

What are the disadvantages of private healthcare in the UK?

Let’s be real, the main disadvantage of private healthcare is the cost. Private treatment just isn’t affordable for most people, especially with other bills to pay such as your mortgage, rent and utility bills.

Should I buy health insurance if I want private medical care?

This is ultimately up to you as there are other options such as loans or paying for the treatment yourself. You should have a think about what would work best for your own situation and what would make private care most affordable for you.

If you want some advice about private health insurance and how it works, you can speak to a health insurance specialist. An expert will be able to explain more about policies and help you compare quotes across the market to make sure you don’t pay too much.

For free health insurance support and guidance, you can speak to our trusted health insurance partners on 0800 009 6559 or click here.

More health guides

If you want to find out more about health insurance and healthcare in the UK, here are more of our top MPO guides.

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