what's the difference between private and NHS?

I just wondered if anyone knows what’s the difference between getting your chemo on the NHS or being a private patient? I have always had medical insurance and had my op done at a private hospital and could really notice the difference ie how quickly I was seen, how punctual they were with seeing me at my appointments for consultations and tests etc, an en-suite bedroom with a telly and the nurses were not rushing about looking harrassed. The Royal Marsden is where I am having my chemo and I just saw the invoice and was shocked at how much my insurers have already paid out to them but I don’t see how it is any different to if I were getting chemo on the NHS I still have to wait for hours with everybody else and they don’t offer me a back rub from George Clooney or anything. I am not too bothered it is only for 6 sessions but I just wondered what Standard Life are actually paying for?

Hi Clarabel,

I’m using my health insurance for my cancer treatment. 7 days from GP to operating table. Bone scan results immediately instead of waiting a week. I am getting my chemo AT HOME. The nurses come and see me for blood tests (nadir & pre chemo) and for the treatment, and I have them to contact if I feel poorly (24/7). The day and time was at my convenience. I would suggest you complain to Royal Marsden/Standard Life about it. I know although I will get radiotherapy at NHS hospital, I get to choose the time of the appointment. I get weekly statements from my insurance co, and all this isn’t cheap I know!

Sue xx

hmm I think I will give Standard Life a call on Monday, I have also go an appointment with my Onc on Monday so I will see what I can find out. I do not mind going to a hospital but now you have told me that they come to you I feel a bit short changed. Time for some wine.

Hi Ladies

I had my surgery done privately and it was great. I did not have to have chemo and had no choice but to have rads at NHS. Bupa have been a big let down. I have had to beg for every bit of treatment. Once I told them I have cancer then they didn’t want to know me. I have had terrible treatment from them. Now they tell me that they will only cover a mammogram yearly only on the breast that had the bc!!! I had to inform them that breasts normally come as a pair. Duh!!!
I have been extremely disappointed with the customer service from them.

Lisa ( my daughter) is with AXA PPP through work and she was advised to have chemo on NHS because she would get offered trials etc and as you said there seems no difference with either chemo or radiotherapy as you still wait along with NHS patients. She did have her mastectomy and recon privately mainly because she got in a little quicker and the after care is nicer … private room, nice food etc. Otherwise most of her treatment has been NHS and they have been wonderful at the hospital. She is now on her insurance though because of having Avastin so now everything has to be done through insurance. If Avastin works for her ( she has only had one so far) the insurance company will only fund it for a year and although i know its being a bit optimistic ( but hey why not) I wonder what would happen after that year if they agreed that she could have it a bit longer. No way are we in a position to find that sort of money. Does anyone know the answer to that? I will probably look into it further down the line but its just something that went through my mind.
So to sum up about the difference between private and NHS we personally think that private is wonderful for ops and scans etc but with a lot of the treatment there is little difference.
Sue x

thanks for sharing your experiences. I spose the way I should look at it is, I am paying for my private medical insurance and however much they pay out for my treatment is not affecting my premium, which will only increase with each birthday or if the insurer chooses to increase their rates overall because of the number of people like me costing them money, but I will live with that. I was not entitled to a free wig because of not being NHS but so what, I got some great ones for less than forty quid each. I do wonder from reading some peoples’ experiences here, whether they might have to wait longer than I did to begin chemo if they had their op first, whereas with me I decided I wanted a few weeks to heal up, a week’s hols and then crack straight on with it. Based on the wonderful customer service I have received from Standard Life I am sure that if I had been entitled to chemo at home they would have told me.

I asked my oncologist whether i should have chemo privately or NHS. I was told that i would be unable to have Taxol on the NHS as it hadn’t been approved for use with primary cancer by my PCT so it was an easy choice for me. He also said that the NHS chemo ward was a very busy, noisy place with a lot of waiting around.
My chemo was in a room with my own and when i had Taxol which takes a long time I had a room with a bed so i was able to doze.
The down side was that i didn’t have 24 hour contact. I could only ring the chemo nurses Monday to Thursday. Also, although i like privacy it meant i didn’t meet any one else having chemo so it was quite a lonely process. By doing some research i found out that i could have “dose dense” chemo every 2 weeks if i had injections of Neulasta each time. The insurance company paid for this. There was no way i’d have had this treatment on the NHS.

so how much does a does of FEC and a dose of TAX actually cost?

My advice to all would be that if your insurance is paying then go ahead. They will look for every opportunity to get out of paying eventually. Bupa even asked me why I needed to see a breast specialist as well as an oncologist!!! I find this toally astounding. Incidentally these people who are making decisions on your care are call centre staff and do not have any clinical background.

I can contrast rarebird’s experience with a call centre mentality from her insurance company with mine. I am with BCWA (through my employment). My case was assigned to an oncology expert (I think a nurse) who wrote to my onc to ask what the plan for me was. I have had chemo, surgery, rads and now Herceptin and have not had a peep out of them except to pay. Oh and to ask when I was due to start my herceptin to ensure there would be no issues in paying the invoices on time. They have been superb.

I get to see a statement monthly on what has been paid out (Herceptin and all the associated costs is £4,000 a time - and I’m having 18 of them). By the time I have my final Herceptin in November the total cost of my cancer treatment will have topped £100,000. I don’t know how that is realistic to the actual cost to the NHS for treatment. Of course, included in that is my private hospital room etc. I supose from my perspective, I pay a lot in tax/NI every year that may benefit others as I haven’t “spent” it and it has cost me only less than £300 in tax in benefit in kind and I have benefited from private rooms, choice of appointments, less waiting time etc.

I have appreciated having the private treatement. When I was having chemo last year, I had a 24 hour number to call if necessary. The worst bit was when I was having rads which had to be in an NHS hospital and every day my subsequent appointments changed to the extent my onc asked me to make a formal complaint.

I think I have been lucky to have had the treatment I have had. My onc told me that if there had been any trials I was suitable for she would have got me on them but it wasn’t appropriate for me.

Sharon x

I personally think it depends which NHS trust/board you are with. I was previously a BUPA member through my job - unfortunately I was made redundant not long before my dx hence no med insurance. All of my treatment has been on the NHS. I saw my GP on 30th Oct, was at Breast clinic on 1st Nov, had triple assessment and results the same day. Had bone/liver/lung scans on 7/8th Nov, mastectomy on 13th Nov, path report 21st Nov and started chemo on 28th Nov - all within a month - not bad for the NHS in my opinion. All my chemo appts have been at a time decided by me, my rads were done outside my own health board but still on the NHS and again I got to pick appt times, my herceptin will start soon - I have been given the choice of whether I want a break at end of chemo or whether I just want to carry on - and it will be done at home after the first 2.

i have had infection with every chemo I have had - and where these have arisen during the daytime I have seen a GP within half an hour - where it has been at night I have used NHS 24 and have been seen twice at home by a GP within the hour, and by the out of hours service within half an hour and admitted to hospital for treatment promptly.

All in all I do not think I could have got any better treatment had I have had private treatment - but maybe I was just lucky.

Magz x

I have my treatment on NHS and cannot fault it at all.From appoinment times to treatment and nursing care it has been exceptional


From the point of view of quality of treatment, I found no difference.

The advantage of private treatment for me is ensuring I see the same person/people for consultations and treatment, so they therefore know and understand me and my situation.

I see the same people every time I go to clinic and feel that they know and understand me so no difference there.

I can only echo what maryfrod has said my treatment from the very beginning has been excellent and apart from a few zometa treatments I see the same chemo sister every time with whom I have a very good relationship and I can’t speak too highly of her, she is so caring and seeing her regularly every month the continuity of care is exceptional.

I don’t think in fact I am sure that I wouldn’t have had any better care if it had been private. I don’t think I would have liked to have been treated as home as going to the hospital every month you get to meet other patients in the same or similar situation to yourself and its nice to talk.

Denio x

Having been in a NHS hospital most of this week with an infection (private hospital won’t take you then for fear of renal failure/ITC etc) and experiencing the potentially dangerous ignorance of junior doctors (lets take blood from the arm that’s had the lymph nodes removed 2 months ago), I feel I am getting a much better service by seeing consultants and chemotherapy specialist nurses. However, I do agree with Denio about the company of others going through the same experience. I did quite enjoy being with most of the other inmates, and we had quite a laugh watching dvds at night in the day room, hooked up to our pumps. Overall though, I feel I am better off using my insurance, and they have been absolutely fantastic about settling bills etc, no hassles at all. I even get cash for staying in an NHS hospital - although I am donating most of that to Maggie’s Centre and a local charity. Every cloud has a silver lining!

I have had all my treatment on the NHS and can’t fault any of it. I looked into paying privately because although I don’t have insurance, I would be willing to pay if I thought it would be justifiable. The surgeon who did my treatment on the NHS is the consultant I would see privately. He was very abrupt and I was concerned this was partly because I was NHS. However, my friend’s aunt saw him privately and said he was exactly the same to her! I guess the main advantage from my perspective is that I would get a private room and my medical staff would be senior and of my choice. However, because I know how the system works having worked in the NHS, I get the doctor I want because I specifically ask for him and decline others offered. Other than that all the staff, without exception have been kind, caring, polite and could not possibly be better if I went privately.

I have private health cover also, from my employer. However, up to now I have been advised that the NHS could cover my treatment more quickly than going privately.
The reasons given have been that they are dealing with bc - and there are guidelines that they have to administer to. The private sector are only allocated maybe one day per week to hav access to scans etc. The NHS can prioritise your case and have more flexibility due to the access to the the equipment.

Up to now, my treatment plan is a mastectomy and any further treatment will be decided once they have examined the tissues. The staff i have been ‘working’ with have been wonderful. My surgeon would be available to me both privately and on the NHS - and I would not have a different surgeon. On the eve of my mastectomy, there was questions regarding a mark on my left lung (chext xray) - my op was cancelled. She was able to get me a CT scan and results back in 36 hours on the NHS - this would not have been possible privately. In addition, since she does surgery 1.5 days per week on the NHS, she was able to fit me in for surgery on her following surgery day. Therefore my delay is only for 2 working days.

I wanted an immediate recon, but the plastic surgeon at the hospital will not do my preferred recon privately since he needs the backup of the NHS team… so there was no bonus here either.

If I need chemo, then I will assess the available options.
Having a private room would be nice, but maybe I would site and think too much.
I am going into hospital tomorrow for my mastectomy, and the nurses are waiting to give me my generous pre-med as I walk in, due to being terrified and hospital-phobic.

BC is a multi-phases treatment, and maybe each stage needs assessing if you have private and NHS options.


All the best to you tomorrow Lisa. Take all the drugs going!

Sue x

Hi Lisa

Good luck from me as well. I think being in a busy ward will be much better for you psychologically than stuck in a private room. It is nice being away from the hustle and bustle, but socialising is also useful especially if you are scared because there is bound to be someone else exactly the same and you can comfort each other. I had a private room (only because of the way it worked out, not because I have private insurance). It was OK until I woke up in the middle of the night. I felt so alone, so after laying there for hours I walked into the main ward and sat with the nurses and other insomniacs. It made me feel much better.