Can I mix private and NHS healthcare?
Updated: Nov 29, 2019
These days more and more people are choosing to pay for some of their healthcare. Perhaps this is the first time you have thought about it and you are wondering how it works? Do they fit together in any way and if you start on a private route, can you go back to the NHS? Maybe you’re worried that if you see a private GP you will be dis-qualified from using your NHS GP, or receiving NHS hospital care? And will you be treated differently?
How does it work between the different systems for GP and Consultant treatment?
Whatever your concerns, don’t worry. It is actually very straight forward.
I have explored the differences between private and NHS GP services within another article. In this article we are going to focus specifically on pathways and referrals.
NHS and private GPs
So firstly we’ll look at GP care. You can freely choose to see your NHS GP or pay to see a private GP. In some cases, they will share information about your case if it would be beneficial to your care but by-and-large they are entirely separate. You can remain registered with an NHS GP and still choose to see a private GP from time to time, or every time.
A little side note on being registered with an NHS GP. I do think it is really important, and I encourage everyone to be registered. The benefit is that the NHS will have up-to-date records for you. If you ever need emergency hospital, out-of-hours or ambulance treatment they will be able to see your health history, medications and allergies. It means your care can be well coordinated should you need it. This really comes into its own for cancer care and in pregnancy for example.
The next step is if you need to be referred for specialist tests or to see a Consultant. Obviously, your NHS GP can refer you for any specialist tests and Consultant clinics within the NHS. But if you choose, you can also ask your NHS GP to refer you to a private hospital where you would pay for your care. You may have health insurance that covers this?
On the flip side, a private GP can also refer you to the NHS. This is because the NHS has a responsibility to provide your care, no matter where the referral comes from. So, you could see a private GP but then choose to have your treatment on the normal NHS waiting list. If you do this, you will go into the same queue as everyone else with the same problem, you won’t get any more or less priority.
You can also pay privately for the whole journey if you want; seeing a private GP and then going on to have private hospital care.
I work as a GP in the NHS and I also run private GP clinics in my local area so I have experience of both systems. I have found no issues in referring patients down either path. The only real difference is the IT set-up. So in my NHS clinic, I can send an electronic referral to the hospital and it automatically attaches a summary of my patients medical history and medication. It’s really easy to choose the Speciality from a drop-down list, and our systems talk to each other in some ways. When I refer a private patient, I do this bit by hand. So, the traditional way of adding the medical history and background into my letter, and sending it in the post to the secretary. The only occasional downside is that sometimes the Consultants write back to the NHS GP automatically, not realising that the referral came from a private clinic. This isn’t a problem, it just means the two GPs have to then share that information afterwards.
The last step in the journey is Specialist Consultant care. You can choose to be treated in an NHS or private hospital; many Consultants work in both. Some NHS hospitals have private wings, but in most parts of the UK they are totally separate.
Often private health insurance will cover you having an operation or seeing a Consultant privately. Otherwise you would pay for this yourself.
At any point you could choose to go back into the NHS system. However, you will not jump the queue if you do; you would be placed on the same waiting list as everyone else with the same problem and you would not get priority over them.
In summary, you are free to choose how you receive your healthcare, and you can cross between the two systems for the same problem. If at any time you choose to switch lanes then you cannot be positively or negatively discriminated against as a result. I hope that has helped to make things simple and debunk the myths!