Private healthcare companies in the UK: What are your options?

Private healthcare companies in the UK: What are your options?

 · 13 min read

Finding the right health insurance policy can be difficult. But knowing what to expect from the major health insurance providers in the UK is one way to start narrowing down your choices.

  • There are many excellent private medical insurance providers in the UK, and choosing the right policy for you can be overwhelming
  • Some insurers will allow you to purchase additional cover for pre-existing conditions or experimental treatments
  • The biggest insurers have access to hospital networks spanning more than 1,000 hospitals in the UK
  • Most insurance companies offer slight variations in their basic policies, with some offering cancer cover, and others offering weight loss surgery; you need to decide what's most important to you when you take out a policy
  • Finding private health insurance: FAQs

    • What is the best health insurance company in the UK?

      The best health insurance company will offer you the cover you need without breaking the bank. If you are looking for more objective parameters to consider, you could search for award-winning insurers or look up Trustpilot reviews. 

      However, at its core, the right insurance company for you will give you the cover you want. For instance, if cancer cover is important to you, it makes sense to look into a policy that offers this as standard, like AXA. If health and fitness are important to you, perhaps you could consider an insurer that provides rewards for leading a healthy lifestyle, like Vitality. 

      In the UK, insurance companies are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), so you can rest assured that insurance providers are held to high standards. And if you're still unsure, you could speak to a broker

    • What are the benefits of private health insurance in the UK?

      There are several benefits of private health insurance in the UK. If you opt for a policy, you may be seen quicker when you have health concerns, you may have access to private hospitals and more comfortable hospital rooms, you may be able to benefit from medical treatments unavailable on the NHS and you could be eligible for additional features like physiotherapy and mental health care. 

    • Who are the biggest health insurance providers in the UK?

      The UK's biggest health insurance company is Bupa. Its policies also offer access to hospital networks spanning more than 1,000 hospitals and health centres. Other major health insurance companies include Vitality, AXA, Aviva, and WPA as well as The Exeter. 

    • What is an NHS cash benefit?

      If you need to be hospitalised and you decide to stay in an NHS facility rather than a private hospital, your insurer could pay you a set amount per night. The exact amount could range from £50 - £250 per night depending on your insurance policy. The idea is that your insurer saves money by having you stay in an NHS hospital rather than a private facility. They then pass some of those savings on to you. 

      However, normal insurance exclusions could still apply. If you are hospitalised as a result of a pre-existing condition that isn't covered by your policy, your insurer might not payout. And if you are hospitalised as a result of an emergency, you might not be able to benefit from the cash scheme right away; your insurer might only cover you if your stay lasts more than three nights for example. 

    • What is cancer cover?

      Cancer cover comes as standard with many health insurance policies. If you are diagnosed with cancer, your cancer cover kicks in. Your exact level of cover will depend on your insurer as well as whether you have opted for enhanced cancer cover. 

      However, you could benefit from drugs and treatment that aren't available on the NHS, skip long NHS waiting lines, receive treatment in private hospitals, have your chemotherapy in the privacy of your own home, and be covered for end of life palliative care and even donations to the hospice of your choice. Some insurers will offer experimental treatments, and there may be additional benefits available to you depending on your policy. 

    If you are looking for private medical insurance (PMI) in the UK, you will find many options. Finding the right insurance policy will give you the peace of mind that you will receive the medical treatment you deserve in your time of need. 

    The coronavirus pandemic continues to put incredible pressure on our health services. With long NHS waiting lists and waiting times, it is no surprise that many people are exploring private health insurance policies. 

    But how do you know what health insurance policy to choose? While most insurance companies offer inpatient cover as standard, if outpatient cover and dental insurance are important to you, you may need to shop around. Not every insurer works with every private healthcare provider, and it's much easier to see a private GP with some insurance policies than others. 

    Getting the right insurance cover for you is crucial. You don't want to be paying over the odds for insurance at London hospitals if you live in Wales.

    While basic insurance policies vary in what they offer, most major insurers will cover your inpatient costs in full. Beyond that, different insurance policies could provide you with different things.

    Comparison sites will give you the lowest quote, but if you want a more in-depth look at what each policy includes, you may have to spend hours reading the fine print. 

    To help you navigate this complex field, we have compared some of the biggest health insurance providers in the UK. Our comparison guide will give you a detailed overview of each insurance company's basic cover, claim limits, network size, and additional features you could benefit from. 

    If you want the short version, we've provided a brief overview in the table below, so you don't have to read the whole thing. Here, we've compared all insurers on aspects of their core offer. We have also included unique features to consider and the hospital network size you could benefit from. 

    AXAAvivaBupaSagaVitalityThe ExeterWPA
    Hospital network size (approx.)2508001,000500400400600
    Includes cancer cover?YesYesYesOptionalYesYesOptional
    MRI, CT, PET scansYesYesYesOptionalYesYesOptional
    Private ambulanceYesYesYesOptionalYesYesOptional
    Home nursingYesYesYesOptionalYesYesOptional
    NHS Cash Benefit per night£50£100£50£100£250£150£200
    NHS Cash Benefit Annual Limit£2,00030 nights35 nights20 nights£2,00030 nights£4,500

    *Mental health cover is available from all providers as an optional add-on.

    AXA

    AXA is a well-established insurer provider and part of the world's largest insurance group, Guardian Royal Exchange. It's even older than the NHS, having been established in 1940. 

    Basic Cover 

    AXA Health's core private medical insurance offer includes:

    • Heart and cancer cover and care that covers your chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 
    • All inpatient fees, including your CT, MRI and PET scans if you need to stay in hospital. 
    • Private ambulance 
    • Home nursing 
    • Outpatient surgery 
    • NHS cash benefit up to £50 a night, up to £2000 a year 
    • A 24-hour helpline to answer any health queries you have
    • Unlimited video or phone consultations with their online doctor 

    Claim Limits 

    The claim limits vary based on your level of cover. However, AXA's core services will pay most of your expenses in full. There are some limits. The dentist and optician option, for example, allows you to recover up to 80% of your costs at the dentist up to £400 a year, and up to 80% of the price for your new glasses and lenses, up to £200 a year. 

    Network Size 

    AXA offers access to more than 250 hospitals across the UK. They work with hospital groups including Nuffield, Spire, and BMI. 

    Additional Features

    AXA's add-ons are modular, so you can tailor your policy to your needs. For example, you can opt for AXA's full outpatient cover. This add-on gives you unlimited specialist consultations or diagnostic tests. Alternatively, AXA's standard outpatient cover gives you up to three specialist consultations a year if you're on a budget. 

    Additional features also include a dentist and opticians' cashback option. In addition, you could enhance your cover with the mental health option that will cover you for mental health conditions, including depression, and the therapies option that will give you up to 10 sessions of acupuncture, homeopathy, osteopathy or similar. 

    There is also an extended cover option that could allow you to visit hospitals outside the AXA network and a travel option that could cover some of your medical expenses abroad. 

    Aviva 

    Aviva is a major UK insurer with more than 15mn customers in the UK. It paid out an average of £30bn in benefits and claims in 2020 and has ambitious sustainability goals. Its private medical insurance product has two levels of cover, but it also offers a diagnosis-only alternative. 

    Basic Cover 

    Aviva's basic cover includes:

    • Inpatient cover 
    • Private Ambulance 
    • Home nursing 
    • Some outpatient tests, including CT, MRI, and PET scans
    • Cancer cover including your treatment 
    • Treatment for acute conditions, such as short term illnesses or viruses
    • NHS cash benefit of £100 per night, for up to 30 nights
    • Digital GP 
    • Mental health support (articles) 

    Claim Limits 

    The claim limits depend on your level of cover. While most inpatient costs and cancer treatments would be covered in full, some outpatient options are capped at £1,000 per year with the basic insurance product. In addition, specialist consultations are limited to £500 per year with the basic cover. 

    Network Size 

    Aviva's network includes around 800 hospitals countrywide, including BMI, Nuffield, Spire, Ramsay and NHS Private Units. In addition, some NHS private units partner with the HCA to deliver top private medical healthcare. 

    Additional Features

    Aviva's private medical insurance product offers two levels of cover. If you opt for full cover, you will get outpatient cover, specialist consultations, diagnostic tests, specialist referred treatment by chiropractors and physiotherapists, and outpatient mental health treatment. 

    Their additional benefits include treatments for complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth and dental surgical procedures. 

    Aviva also offers a diagnostics-only alternative to private medical insurance. This will cover your diagnosis expenses but does not include treatment options. It is an affordable way to skip the NHS waiting line. 

    Bupa 

    Bupa is a leading UK healthcare provider with more than 30 million customers worldwide. They offer comprehensive health insurance policies, cash plans and dental services. 

    Basic Cover 

    Bupa's basic cover includes:

    • Inpatient cover 
    • Post-treatment scans (MRI, PET, and CT) and diagnostic tests
    • Mental care inpatient cover of up to 28 days per year 
    • Cancer cover 
    • Private ambulance 
    • Home nursing 
    • Some outpatient scans, as long as they are directly related to a recent inpatient claim
    • NHS cash benefit of £50 per night up to 35 nights a year 
    • NHS cash benefit for cancer treatment of up to £100 per night 

    Claim Limits 

    Your claim limits will depend on the level of cover you select. For example, if you opt for comprehensive cover with outpatient options, you could choose to be covered from £500 per year. There is also an unlimited cover option that will cover all your outpatient costs. It is usually the most expensive option. 

    Network Size 

    Bupa's extended list option gives you access to more than 1,000 hospitals in the UK, including London

    Additional Features

    Bupa includes two levels of cover. You can choose between the 'treatment and care' option or the 'comprehensive' option. The former is more affordable, but the latter offers additional features like unlimited outpatient cover and private diagnosis. Home nursing and treatment at home are also included in the comprehensive option. 

    Saga 

    Saga's insurance products are designed for people over 50. They offer a range of insurance products, including health insurance. Their health insurance doesn't come with an upper age limit. They have specific add-ons to cover some pre-existing conditions and offer moratorium underwriting like other major insurers. If you are interested in health insurance for pre-existing conditions, we have further information available here.

    Basic Cover 

    Saga offers four levels of cover. The health insurance company's most basic package includes: 

    • Inpatient cover 
    • Surgical outpatient procedures 
    • NHS cash benefit - £100 per night up to 20 nights a year 
    • Cancer care team support 
    • Saga's GP support service, allowing you to speak to a GP 24/7 
    • External prosthesis benefit (up to £5,000 for the lifetime of the benefit) 

    Claim Limits 

    The claim limits for Saga's health insurance policy vary depending on the level of cover.

    Network Size 

    Saga offers access to more than 500 hospitals across the Spire, Nuffield, Ramsay and BMI hospital groups.

    Additional Features

    Saga offers four health plans as part of its cover. There are also options to improve your policy if specific medical conditions are important to you. For example, you could opt for extended cancer cover (including cover for experimental trials), pre-existing hypertension cover, health cash benefits, and a protected no claims discount.

    The more comprehensive options include outpatient cover, some dental cover, and alternative therapies, including sessions with acupuncturists and homoeopathic charges. Apart from their most basic plan, all other plans come with cancer cover.

    Vitality 

    Vitality used to be partially owned by Prudential and was known as PruHealth. But in 2014, it was taken over by Discovery and rebranded to VitalityHealth. It now offers comprehensive health insurance and a unique discounts and rewards scheme to encourage healthy living. 

    Basic Cover 

    Vitality's core cover includes the following: 

    • Inpatient cover, including scans 
    • Cancer cover 
    • Private ambulance 
    • Home nursing 
    • Specialist consultations 
    • Oral surgery 
    • Weight loss surgery 
    • Mental health support, in particular, preventative care (including referrals where applicable) 
    • Menopause support (including referrals where applicable)
    • Rewards and discounts scheme for healthy lifestyle choices
    • NHS hospital cash benefit set at £250 per night up to £2000 per year 

    Claim Limits 

    As with other insurers, your claim limits will depend on the level of cover you select. Many claims, including CT, MRI, and PET scans, will be fully covered. 

    To give you an idea of the limits, you can expect to receive £1,500 towards outpatient mental health appointments with psychologists and psychiatrists with the mental health add-on. 

    If you choose to opt for weight loss surgery under the core plan, Vitality will cover 75% of your costs. 

    Network Size 

    Vitality currently has more than 400 hospitals, clinics, and health centres on its hospital list, with partnerships including BMI, Nuffield and Spire. 

    Additional Features

    You can enhance your cover with additional features. This includes:

    • Outpatient cover, which pays for tests and treatments 
    • Therapies cover including homeopathy and acupuncture 
    • Mental health cover including unlimited talking therapies and outpatient consultations with a psychiatrist or psychologist costing up to £1500 
    • Optical, dental and hearing insurance so you can claim back expenses for new prescription glasses or lenses, routine dental appointments, and hearing aids 
    • Worldwide travel insurance to cover you when you're travelling 

    The Exeter 

    The Exeter is a major insurance provider offering health insurance under its Health+ product. This comes with a free member app that provides medical advice on the go. 

    Basic Cover 

    The Exeter's core cover comes with: 

    • Inpatient cover, including scans 
    • Cancer cover 
    • Outpatient surgery 
    • Private ambulance 
    • Home nursing 
    • Post-surgery physiotherapy sessions 
    • NHS cash benefit of £150 per night up to 30 nights a year 
    • Access to the HealthWise app offering medical advice and treatments on the go 

    Claim Limits 

    Your claim limits depend on your level of cover. You will generally be covered in full for most features available via your core policy. However, your NHS cash benefit will be limited to £150 per night up to 30 nights a year. 

    Post-operative physiotherapy cover will also be limited to three sessions. 

    If you choose additional features like outpatient cover, you can choose to be covered from anywhere between £500 per year to unlimited cover. 

    If you opt for mental health cover, you will receive 28 days of inpatient cover as part of that. 

    Network Size 

    The Exeter has around 400 hospitals on its hospital list currently, and all levels of cover include London hospitals as standard. 

    Additional Features

    As part of your additional features, you could include: 

    • Outpatient cover 
    • Therapies, including osteopaths, homoeopaths, acupuncturists, and limited dietician sessions 
    • Mental health cover, including consultation fees with specialists 

    WPA 

    WPA has been operating as a non-profit organisation since 1901. The company is an established health insurance provider offering access to more than 600 hospitals. 

    Basic Cover 

    WPA's basic cover comes with the following included: 

    • Some hospital treatment, excluding scans 
    • Limited outpatient consultations with a specialist
    • NHS cash benefit set at £200 per night for up to £4,500 per year 
    • Remote GP services (including private prescriptions and specialist referrals) 
    • Health and wellbeing helpline 
    • Orthopaedic devices, specifically prosthetics 

    Claim Limits 

    WPA's basic, surgery-only option comes with an annual limit of £50,000 per person for diagnosed conditions. You will also be offered limited outpatient consultations with a specialist up to six weeks before surgery, with cover up to £150. 

    WPA offers two other levels of cover that provide unlimited cover, with some exceptions. 

    Network Size 

    WPA offers access to more than 600 hospitals across the UK. WPA works with BMI, Nuffield Health, Spire, Ramsay, and private wings of NHS hospitals and independent hospitals. 

    Additional Features

    WPA offers three levels of cover. Depending on the cover you select, you could benefit from: 

    • Extra outpatient cover 
    • Outpatient consultations with specialists 
    • Complex diagnostic scans, including MRI, PET, and CT scans 
    • Four weeks of home nursing 
    • Private ambulance costs 
    • Dental and optical cover
    • Mental health add-on 
    • Overseas treatment, excluding the US and up to a maximum of £500,000

    Private healthcare companies: what are my options? 

    Most insurers offer inpatient cover as standard. Beyond that, their basic policies vary. However, if you are willing to purchase add-ons, you can tailor a policy to your needs. 

    Many large insurers entice customers by including cancer cover as standard. Others have member-only apps that offer medical advice on the go. Others include discounts and rewards for policyholders who commit to a healthy lifestyle. 

    Comparison sites will provide top-level information about each insurer and the cheapest quotes. But the level of cover you get as standard at insurer A can be very different from what you're offered with insurer B. So it is essential to do your homework from the outset so that you end up with the best policy for you. 

    Stela Gineva
    Stela Gineva
    Stela joined Pension Times in May 2021 and is an expert around a variety of finance topics, particularly financial planning and pensions. Stela lives in a picturesque Yorkshire village with her boyfriend and enjoys gardening and reading.
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