How to use Private Healthcare

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Private medicine in the UK runs in parallel to the National Health Service. However, there are very few private emergency services and in fact dealing with acute and serious crises is one of the branches of medicine that the NHS does best. If you have a sudden serious problem, such as a stroke or a heart attack the immediate answer is to call an ambulance and go to the nearest accident and emergency centre.

For other health problems you may opt for private health care. Some forms of employment include health insurance as part of the remuneration package. Otherwise, those who can afford it pay an annual insurance premium to cover private medical services. A few people set aside their own ‘health fund’ and save in a designated account in their own bank to cover private care if and when they need it.

If you do not have private health care, there are nonetheless some situations in which you could use private services selectively. Perhaps the wait to see a specialist under the NHS in your area is too long. You would like to know what the diagnosis might be and how it should be investigated.

Perhaps there is delay in waiting for the right investigation such as an MRI scan. Or perhaps you are not able to convince your NHS doctor that a particular test is necessary.

You could have the test done privately and take the result to your doctor. Not all doctors in the NHS are receptive to patients exercising this independence and some commissioning boards may frown on this ‘interference’. However, a good doctor will appreciate your concern and accept your initiative graciously. After all you are saving the NHS the expense.

Alternatively, if you have a dilemma and need an expert’s advice you could arrange a single one-off consultation to ensure that you have an opportunity to talk through the problem with someone who really knows about this topic. Perhaps you have been offered a choice of treatments for a particular condition and need an opportunity to discuss more fully the advantages, disadvantages, side-effects, and complications of each. The priorities of your work or family life may mean that a treatment that suits some people will not be right for you. Find out who is the expert in your area. To do this look up the nearest major hospital centres (possibly more than one) and check the names of the specialists and their particular interests. Check whether this doctor has a private practice and how to make an appointment. The doctor’s NHS secretary is a useful first contact point. She will tell you if the doctor sees private patients and where these consultations take place. You may also locate this information by looking up the individual doctor on the internet. Usually, the doctor will require a letter of referral so you will need to speak to your GP and ask for a note of referral. Just as with other forms of second opinion (See topic on second opinions) the more information the specialist has to work from the better the opinion will be. Hence a letter of referral will make the specialist’s job a lot easier and the opinion more useful. Some GPs are not very cooperative so you may need to be persistent and explain that you need an opportunity to talk things through and confirm the advice you have been given.

Most specialists charge between £200 and £300 for a half hour consultation. You do not have to continue under this specialist’s care privately unless you choose to but can take the benefit of your discussion back to your NHS team.

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