Private Healthcare System

Until 1948 healthcare for ordinary people in the UK was provided by private medical clubs, voluntary hospitals and charities. After 1948 healthcare under the National Health System was provided free for everyone at the point of delivery. The role of the private healthcare system was, for many years, seen as supplementary to the NHS. Under the Tory Government of the nineteen eighties and nineties there were considerable changes to the NHS and the take up of services in the private healthcare system increased dramatically.

Private Healthcare System

The Private Healthcare System and the NHS

During the first three and a half decades of the NHS take up of private healthcare was minimal but that increased dramatically under the Tory government of the nineteen eighties and nineties, particularly as there were significant changes to the structure of the NHS. By 1987 more than 12 million people in the UK were served to some extent by the private healthcare system, these included cash plan companies, friendly societies and private medical insurers.


In addition to individual take up of private healthcare a number of NHS services were outsourced to the private sector including psychiatric care and residential care over the long term for people with learning disabilities. In recent years the NHS has provided a growing number of private beds it was thought that NHS provision would improve if there was more collaboration between the public and the private sector.

Private and Public Systems

Over the last twenty years the NHS has contracted more of its services out to public providers in an attempt to improve service and to cut waiting times. Besides psychiatric care and the care of people with severe learning difficulties, the private healthcare system was also used to provide an increasing amount of care for the elderly, for pregnancy terminations, and latterly for some routine operations. There is no denying the fact that the private healthcare system is used more by some classes of people than by others and private health insurance is also more common among older people than it is with the younger generation.

Joint Care

The ways in which the private healthcare system and the NHS have worked in collaboration is no more evident than in the joint policies that are being taken up by an increasing number of people. Under a joint policy it is recognised that the insured person will have some procedures under the NHS and others through the private health scheme. Under this kind of scheme patients can have their surgery for an acute illness under the private sector and their follow up outpatient appointments through the NHS. Joint policies also mean that if your GP refers you to see a consultant and there is a long waiting list you can opt to use your private healthcare scheme for the initial consultation and even for some diagnostic procedures. If you need to go into hospital after seeing the consultant, then depending on the level of private cover that you have, you could opt to be treated for that under the NHS.

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