The Differences Between Private Cancer Treatment and NHS Cancer Treatment

Every day around 1,000 people in the UK are told they have cancer. That equates to over 360,000 cases every year, most of which will require some level of treatment to either shrink the cancer or eliminate it completely.

The NHS in the UK is well equipped to deal with the large numbers of people who come through its doors requiring cancer treatment, but in many cases, patients decide to make the most of private care for their treatment. The decision to go private is a personal one and for the most part has nothing to do with a distrust in the capability of the NHS, but rather the types of treatment it offers.

NHS Cancer Treatments

For the most part, treatments available in the NHS and through private healthcare providers remains the same. The NHS offers:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgery

These are proven methods of cancer treatment and so are readily available on the NHS. Most hospitals are equipped with the appropriate equipment, supplies and staff needed to facilitate these treatments, but there are newer treatments than only certain hospitals can administer. The NHS will not offer new treatments until they have been extensively proven to work. Some patients may have access to new medications as part of clinical trials, but for the most part, the NHS will only cover tried and tested treatment methods.

The NHS aims to provide treatment to those with cancer within 62 days of an urgent GP referral, although depending on the area, this may differ.

Private Cancer Treatments

As mentioned, the NHS and private healthcare providers largely offer the same treatments, although access to newer medicines and procedures is more readily available within private practices. Proton beam therapy is available on the NHS but until recently, patients had to go overseas for it. With some not fit to travel long distance for such a targeted form of radiotherapy, many private providers began to offer the service which saw a lot of patients switch from public to private treatment.

The NHS has since invested in making proton beam therapy available in the UK, but in what’s often referred to as the ‘health lottery’, not everyone who could benefit from the treatment will live in close proximity to a treatment centre covered by the NHS and may still need to travel to receive it.

Although there are few differences between the types of treatment offered by private clinics versus those in the NHS, one big difference is waiting times. The NHS has long been plagued by extensive waiting lists, but private practices often offer shorter waiting times.

Covering the Cost

Cancer treatment of any kind is expensive, with the NHS spending billions of pounds treating patients with the disease every year. It’s one of the most expensive parts of the NHS, which by its very design offers free at the point of access healthcare to all UK citizens.

It’s not possible to put a number on the average cost of private cancer treatment in the UK because every patient will require different care. It can cost over £100 for a consultation with a private healthcare specialist, and the price of chemotherapy, radiotherapy or any other kind of treatment can easily extend into the thousands.

In fact, it’s thought the NHS spends roughly £30,000 treating each cancer patient, but this cost will fluctuate if you’re a private patient and depending on the treatment you require.

Those with cancer have compromised immune systems which means they are at a higher risk of infections, and the price of treating those infections will need to be factored in when. Of course, on the NHS this is all covered, but if those looking to go private will need either extensive health insurance or lump sums to cover the costs.


In essence, there is no major difference between private and NHS cancer treatments, with many private clinics now offering up their services to NHS patients. The choice is down the individual and their specific needs, although depending on cost and the type of treatment needed, this may sway a patient’s opinion on whether to self-fund.

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