Healthcare Basics

Health insurance in the UK

We explain the different health insurance options in the UK, which allow you to access private treatment as an alternative to using the NHS. 

Health insurance UK

By Gary Buswell

Updated 18-3-2024

Private health insurance in the UK is an option for those not able to access the National Health Service (NHS) or who want a greater choice of healthcare treatments. This guide details how health insurance in the UK works, with sections on topics such as:

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The UK healthcare system

The UK has a mixed healthcare system, with most residents covered by the state-funded NHS. Around 10.6% of residents use private healthcare which is available to those with private health insurance.

The NHS logo on a sign in front of the Royal London Hospital
Photo: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images

Public healthcare in the UK is different from that in many other European countries as it is tax-funded and residence-based rather than through public health insurance. All residents can access most NHS services free of charge and don’t need any kind of insurance plan.

Spending on public healthcare in the UK is currently 9.6% of GDP and the country ranks 16th on the 2018 Euro Health Consumer Index.

Private health insurance in the UK

As people can access free healthcare through the NHS, there is no compulsory requirement for health insurance. Therefore, many residents don’t bother with medical insurance in the UK.

However, private health insurance is available as an option for those who want to access private medical treatment. This can include treatment that is not available through the NHS. For instance, some dental procedures are not done on the NHS.

Who should get private health insurance in the UK?

Nobody coming to the UK, either permanently or temporarily, must take out private health insurance. Non-residents and short-term visitors who aren’t entitled to free NHS care can pay the health surcharge which gives them access to public health services on the same basis as a resident.

However, private insurance is advisable for both residents and non-residents if they want to access a wider range of treatments, avoid waiting times or enjoy perks such as private hospital rooms. Expats coming to the UK often find it simpler to take out a private plan with an international provider.

Many UK companies offer private health insurance as part of a benefit package to employees, especially international companies employing workers from overseas.

The advantages of getting health insurance in the UK

The NHS is a world-renowned healthcare provider, but it does struggle to meet demands. Furthermore, the quality of facilities can vary across different regions. Because of this, some people prefer to take out health insurance and go private.

Advantages of private health insurance in the UK include:

  • greater choice in GPs and hospital facilities;
  • wider range of treatments, including some specialist treatments not available on the NHS (e.g., dental treatments, complementary therapies);
  • shorter waiting times, as services aren’t as over-crowded;
  • more exclusive treatments (e.g., private hospital rooms)
Dentistry in the UK

In addition to the above benefits, taking out a private health insurance policy can save you money. If you end up in a situation, for example, where you need treatment not available on the NHS. If you don’t have insurance coverage, you will have to pay for private treatment out of your own pocket. This can end up costing you a lot of money.

How does private health insurance in the UK work?

There are two national bodies that regulate the UK insurance industry:

When choosing a private health insurance provider, make sure that they sign up to the FCA financial services register.

Most health insurance companies charge a monthly premium plus an excess fee that you will need to pay when you use your cover. You will normally need to pay for treatment upfront and them file a reimbursement claim with your insurer. Check with your provider for details of their claims process.

You can choose from different coverage plans with private insurers. Not everything is part of a basic plan, but you can opt for add-ons. Most companies don’t include dental insurance in their standard plans. Therefore, if you want insurance for dental treatment, you will probably need to pay extra for this or take out a separate policy.

How to choose a health insurance provider

The UK health insurance market isn’t as big as in many other countries. However, there is still plenty of choice. You are free to choose your own provider. If you receive private coverage from your employer, you may need to go with a company with whom they are partnered with. This is unless they allow workers to arrange their own coverage.

Child visiting a doctor

When choosing a health insurance provider, there are a number of things you might want to consider. These include:

  • premium costs;
  • whether you can cover additional family members;
  • what treatments and conditions receive coverage;
  • whether you have coverage if you travel overseas

See the Expatica guides to choosing a health insurance provider and UK health insurance quotes for more details.

Private health insurance companies in the UK

You can choose from a number of insurance companies, including:

Health insurance costs in the UK

Private health insurance costs about £1,020 annually on average. However, you can find basic policies for around £500.

Your health insurance premium will be affected by:

  • level of coverage;
  • how many people are covered;
  • age;
  • lifestyle;
  • medical history

You can use a UK comparison site such as ActiveQuote to compare costs from different providers.