Private healthcare for asthma

How and when can private healthcare help your asthma?

Everyone who lives in the UK is entitled to free asthma healthcare on the National Health Service (NHS), whether it’s getting the right diagnosis, or getting extra help for difficult asthma symptoms. 

But there might have been times when you’ve wondered whether going private might help you and your asthma. 

Around 11 per cent of people in the UK also have some form of private medical insurance (PMI), either through a policy they've bought themselves or through their employer. If you’re considering getting health insurance for yourself or your family, you might be curious about what you’re entitled to and whether asthma care would be included. 

On this page we look at how private healthcare can sometimes help you with your asthma. 

Why do people with asthma go private?

You might decide to go private for your asthma care for several reasons, such as:

  • you want an expert or second opinion about your diagnosis
  • there’s a long waiting time to see a specialist
  • you can’t see the consultant of your choice or see the same consultant for each appointment
  • your employer offers private insurance as part of your employee benefits package.

Private healthcare can offer some advantages over the NHS, such as:

  • faster access to tests and treatments that could take weeks or even months through NHS waiting lists
  • the chance to get a second opinion quickly if you’re not happy with  your GP’s diagnosis or treatment of your asthma
  • longer appointment times so you can really get to the heart of your symptoms, worries or triggers.

“When I was first diagnosed with asthma I was given high levels of medicines and experienced side effects such as increased heart rate, anxiety, and eventually panic attacks. There was a very long wait for any help with my anxiety from the NHS, so I sought help from a private counsellor, and got help with breathing and relaxation. Once I got my anxiety under control I felt better.” - Ann Oates, 60, diagnosed with severe asthma aged 53.

Is it worth going private?

Before you decide to go private, make sure you know what you want to get out of it. Are you looking for reassurance, advice, or a fresh pair of eyes to check that your regular GP hasn’t missed anything?

Going private can be a huge financial commitment so there are things you may want to think about first: 

  • Private care isn’t necessarily better care

The quality of care you receive for your asthma privately or in the NHS should be the same: around 85 percent of private consultants also work as NHS doctors. 

  • Shorter waiting times

But you might still need an initial referral or consultation with your GP, which could take some time, before your private appointment,. 

  • Getting a second opinion

If you’re not happy with your diagnosis or treatment or you find it hard to talk to your doctor, remember that you can ask your GP or consultant to refer you to someone else in the NHS. A second opinion in the NHS isn’t your legal right but is rarely refused. Working alongside your healthcare professional can help you manage your asthma better – see our advice on getting the best from the NHS

Remember that the Asthma UK Helpline is staffed by expert asthma nurses. If you have questions about your symptoms or medicines, or want to know what you can expect from your healthcare team, give the Helpline a call - Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm on 0300 222 5800.

Frequently asked questions about private asthma care

Will going private affect my NHS care?

No. If you decide to go private, you’re still entitled to NHS care free of charge. Your position on an NHS waiting list shouldn’t be affected if you choose to have a private consultation. But remember, the NHS can’t pay for or subsidise your private hospital treatment. 

I’m thinking of getting health insurance – will my asthma be covered?

That depends on the type of insurance plan you get. There are two types of health insurance plan.

  • Fully underwritten policies require you to tell your insurers your full medical history so they can decide what will and won’t be covered.
  • Moratoriums will automatically exclude pre-existing conditions like asthma. So it’s a good idea to shop around to see what different insurers can offer you.

If an insurance company underwrites asthma in their policy, they’re likely to go through a health screening questionnaire with you to find out how your asthma has been recently, and if it’s well managed. Some insurers might accept you straight away if you’re diagnosed with asthma and haven’t had symptoms for a set number of years.

Most policies won’t cover the day-to-day management of your asthma (for example your routine appointments or medicines) – but you could make a claim if your asthma got worse and your GP or consultant referred you for hospital treatment. But ask your insurer first.

If you have private medical insurance as part of your employee benefits package or a voluntary health insurance scheme, check with your employer if asthma is covered in the policy. 

Tip: Some private medical insurance policies will only fund treatment that’s recommended by your GP, which means you’ll need a referral letter from them – so check your policy details to see if a GP referral is needed before you go ahead with any treatment.

What if I get asthma after taking out private medical insurance?

If you get asthma after taking out a policy, your insurer might cover the diagnostic tests, but not the day-to-day management of your asthma. So if you’re thinking about buying insurance, read the details of your policy before buying.

How much will private medical insurance cost?

The cost of your private medical insurance will depend on the type of cover you buy, how old you are (as insurance costs increase with your age), your overall health, and whether you smoke.

How much will private healthcare cost if I pay for it myself?

You could consider paying for private healthcare yourself. But be aware that it could get expensive if you need to see lots of different specialists or need a hospital procedure. Every private provider will have their own set of fees and will charge you depending on what you’re seeing them about. Once you’ve found a private provider, make sure all the costs, and what is included, are clearly explained to you – for example, consultation, tests, medicines, additional treatments or follow-up.

How do I find a private asthma doctor?

If you decide to go private the first step is usually to see your NHS GP. You can ask them to recommend a private GP, consultant or specialist for your asthma. 

If you want to find your own private asthma consultant, you could:

  • talk to friends or family who have seen a private consultant and find out their experiences and recommendations
  • search online
  • ask your private medical insurance company for their recommendations. Some policies may have a set list of doctors you’re covered to see
  • ask for personal recommendations on the Asthma UK Facebook page or forum (although please remember that these would be individual opinions and not the views of Asthma UK). 

Will my NHS GP be involved in my private care?

Yes, your NHS GP usually refers you to a private doctor and will share the results of any tests, so you don’t have to get them done again. Your private doctor should also inform your NHS GP of any changes in your treatment, so they can update your medical records.

Your GP may be able to refer you to the same specialist as both an NHS and private patient. In that way you would pay for a private first consultation to get your asthma under control quickly, and then continue treatment (if needed) via the NHS referral.

Still unsure about whether or not to go private?

If you’ve been doing lots of research into private healthcare but you’re still not sure whether to go ahead, it can help to write down the pros and cons. 

  • List all the advantages in the pros column (“I’ll get to see a consultant of my choice” or “I won’t have to wait long for my appointment”), and all the disadvantages in the cons column (“The cost of the consultation will eat into the money I’ve saved for my holiday” or “I might get the same advice even if I go private”).
  • If you’re still unsure, look at the points you've written down, and give each one a score from 0-5 based on how important it is to you. Try to score as objectively as possible and then add up the totals and see which column has the highest score.

Some people find it useful to discuss their pros and cons list with their friends or family to help make a decision. It could also be useful to think about what you would say to a friend or family member who asked you for advice about going private.

Last updated October 2016

Next review due October 2019