The NHS vs Private treatment in the UK

The National Health Service, known as the NHS, is one of the greatest assets that Britain has. A system which provides free healthcare in return for a small contribution from earnings, it means that no-one has to worry about whether they can afford to be treated.

However, while the NHS system has many advantages, it’s also under huge pressure too. With not enough funding to treat every patient speedily, and non-urgent treatment frequently postponed, it’s perhaps not surprising that private treatment is seen as preferential to the NHS is many ways.

Although private care is often perceived as superior, there has never been closer links to NHS treatment, with many patients experiencing a fusion of the two. Here’s a closer look at private treatment and how it connects with the NHS, and what the future is likely to hold.

The current combination

In the past, there has been a strong differential line been drawn between the NHS and private treatment but increasingly that boundary is being blurred. Many patients no longer exclusively use one or the other, instead relying on a combination of both.

The distance between NHS and private care is sometimes brought even closer with the introduction of Public Partnerships. This allows health corporations within the private sector to run NHS hospitals, typically because the NHS Trust responsible hasn’t been performing.

Even if you do opt for private treatment, you may not end up in a private hospital. Many private healthcare providers offer interim options which aren’t as expensive. This typically involves having use of a private room and facilities within an NHS hospital. Cheaper than being treated in a private hospital, but still offering all the benefits of private healthcare, this is an alternative which is more affordable for many.

Where the NHS excels

There is the frequent misunderstanding that private healthcare is superior to the NHS, with better doctors. In many cases, doctors run a private clinic alongside their NHS duties so you could end up seeing the same doctor whichever option you choose.

The private sector has the financial advantage without the pressure of government cuts and funding limitations. This allows it to offer a greater range of treatments and shorter waiting lists. However, despite these advantages, there are some areas which simply can’t compete with what the NHS offers.

If you were to become critically ill while in hospital, you’d probably be transferred back to the NHS for treatment. Intensive Care Units (ICUs) in NHS hospital excel in offering round-the-clock, top-quality care. Many private hospitals don’t have ICU facilities and aren’t able to provide the same intensity of care that’s required.

Certain NHS hospitals are also recognised globally for being world leaders in their field. This may be paediatric care, cancer or cardiovascular. Compared to the knowledge and expertise available in these NHS hospitals, a local private hospital simply wouldn’t be able to match up.

The NHS of the future

Although the NHS offers excellent quality, there’s no denying the fact that it’s a service under pressure. This is one of the driving factors which is shaping the direction in which it moves. Health chiefs are planning for the future and what treatments might be offered, and much of this focuses upon preventative measures.

Progress is already being made in partnership with the government’s Life Sciences department. Initiatives such as Test Beds are trialling different methods of reaching patients more quickly, and equipping them with the necessary skills and devices to be able to spot when problems begin to develop.

Alternatives to traditional GP appointments are also viewed as key, with Telehealth providing more rapid access to a doctor, and enabling tens more patients to be seen every day. The role of community pharmacists is also increasing, expanding the number of conditions which they can test and monitor, providing an early warning system.

For the treatment itself, the NHS is looking towards new and exciting technology to deliver innovative options that aren’t currently available. The use of artificial intelligence and digital devices are expected to make a real impact.

Money is being ploughed into genetic research too as it’s believed this holds the key to truly effective treatment. By matching specific treatments to a patient’s DNA, rather than just delivering a generic treatment, it’s hoped that success rates will soar.

Early detection, prevention and innovation are the key to allowing the NHS to deliver high-quality treatment for patients moving forward.

A future for both

It’s clear that the NHS is overloaded in many ways and despite its drives to improve, it’s unlikely to find an easy solution to the pressure it’s under. Therefore, there will remain a place for private healthcare for those that can afford it, taking some of the burden for routine treatment away from a public service which is already stretched.

However, it’s also likely that the NHS and private sector will continue to overlap, offering patients a combined approach. This, together with the innovative technology that many believe future health treatments will include, means that healthcare in Britain will continue to be one of the best in the world.