But can a hospital really ever be that good? It’s a hospital after all; does anything matter other than the treatment they offer?
The things that matter most
When you're ill, what you really care about is the quality of treatment you're going to get. All the gourmet nibbles and flat screen televisions that money can buy won't matter compared to that. AXA PPP healthcare, a major UK private health provider, were quick to reassure us that in the UK, private hospitals have to meet some of the highest standards in the world for the treatment they deliver, just like the NHS.
The specialists and nurses providing your treatment and care have to meet at least the same levels of qualification and experience that you'd get in the NHS too. In fact most of the specialists and consultants you'll find working at a private hospital will work for the NHS as well.
It's in the details
The first thing you notice when you book into a private hospital is time. The time that the staff have to make you feel welcome and at home. The time that nurses have to talk to you about your case. The time that the specialist will take to talk to you after your treatment.
Usually a porter will show you to your room and help you settle in. Once there, you'll find the kind of comforts you'd usually associate with a stay in a hotel. Most rooms have a TV and an en-suite bathroom with a shower, so no traipsing down a corridor with your hospital gown flapping behind you. Usually you're free to use your mobile in your room, and in fact many patients distract themselves with free Wi-Fi on their laptops and smartphones.
During your stay, it's common to have one nurse who looks after your case. That may sound like a small thing, but it can be hugely reassuring to know there's someone there whose job it is to talk when you need to chat things over. They'll look after your regular checks, give you any medication, and make sure any pain or discomfort is taken care of quickly.
It's usually the nurse that takes your food order too. Look at some of the hospital menus and they look genuinely appetising with every need taken care of. Given the reputation of 'hospital food', it is a real surprise to see something that wouldn't look out of place in a restaurant.
Do you really get seen faster?
What attracts most people to private hospitals is that they don't face the same kind of pressures as the NHS. One reason for this is that there are simply fewer patients, but another really key reason is that crowds of patients needing accident and emergency care aren't going to turn up unannounced, which makes it much easier to manage the number of patients coming and going at any time. Imagine planning a party and not knowing how many people are going to turn up - that's the kind of problem NHS hospitals face every day of the week.
Are waiting times that much shorter? Yes: in general it's much easier to get an appointment and treatment when you go private. That means you'll generally spend less time waiting for a first appointment, waiting for treatment, or just waiting to be seen once you arrive. This seems to be one of the main reasons why people choose private medical care - especially for people who don't want to worry about what happens about work or childcare if they fall ill.
Of course, there are some waiting areas, but even these are pretty much what you'd expect from a hotel lounge. In many waiting areas, free tea free tea and coffee is served, and there are up-to-date magazines and newspapers to read, and TVs. They are quiet, comfortable and - as far as you can expect in a hospital - relaxing.
'But I could never go private - I want to support the NHS'
Choosing private healthcare does protect you from many of the financial constraints affecting the NHS. But there are many things that private healthcare could never do as efficiently as the NHS - like GP or accident and emergency services. It's worth noting that private healthcare complements the NHS rather than replaces it and many medical insurers work closely with the NHS.
Going private - how it works
If your GP refers you for a consultation or treatment and you have private medical care, let them know. All doctors are used to dealing with patients who have private cover and they will either recommend a consultant or refer you for the type of treatment you need.
After a quick phone conversation with your insurance provider to let them know about the planned treatment and confirm cover, you can get your appointment in the diary.
Before you know it, you'll be seeing a consultant or getting your treatment. And then probably enjoying a nice lunch, watching TV, catching up on Twitter or chatting to your nurse - all in private comfort. It's worth taking a look to see what private healthcare could offer you.
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