The National Health Service (NHS)
The National Health Service (NHS) was set up in 1948 to provide free healthcare for all the residents of the UK, including foreign immigrants.
The NHS is funded through general taxation and is run by the Department of Health.
Although the situation is improving, the National Health Service has been over-subscribed in recent years, creating a shortfall in the number of hospital beds available and long waiting lists can sometimes be a problem. Private healthcare providers are providing a quick solution, whereby patients pay for private healthcare either through insurance or each time they use their services.
Indeed, over the last few years the structure of the NHS has undergone considerable change and the private sector now has a role in supplying and funding some of the buildings and services within the NHS. The power to make important decisions about local healthcare is also being devolved to local communities in some areas.
The private healthcare sector is much smaller than the NHS and does not have the same structures of accountability. It mirrors the NHS by providing private GPs (and many doctors in the NHS also have private practices), nursing homes, ambulances, hospitals and medical specialists, but it does not follow national treatment guidelines.
Secondary care in the private sector: Secondary care, which refers to more specialised health treatment such as hospitals, mental health provision and care for the elderly, is well served by the private sector. While people may be registered with an NHS GP, the private sector is often used for secondary care such as:
- Diagnostic tests for certain conditions
- One-off specialist treatment, such as visiting a dermatologist
- Specific operations in a private hospital
- Non-essential treatment such as cosmetic surgery
- Treatment for addiction or rehabilitation
Private health insurance: Membership of health insurance schemes, such as BUPA, accounts for a large proportion of private health treatment. Many employers offer membership of such schemes, alternatively people pay for it themselves.
Private hospitals: Private hospitals are provided by private hospital groups, while the NHS also provides some private patient units within its hospitals. Private hospitals are licensed by the local healthcare authority, which conducts two inspections per year.
Should you suddenly be taken ill in the UK, phone 999 and a free NHS ambulance will pick you up and take you to the nearest hospital emergency care unit.