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Last updated: 10.08.18

Private healthcare and public healthcare: whats the difference?

Private and public healthcare differ quite significantly when it comes to factors such as regulation, pay and training. While the roles of doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff don't really change between each care sector, they may be swayed towards one or the other due to its strengths and weaknesses.

Public-sector healthcare workers can be guaranteed to be always busy, particularly as the NHS is currently under so much strain. However, government regulations and training are usually more strictly enforced in public healthcare, while in private healthcare, the focus tends to be more on profit.

But what else should healthcare sector workers bear in mind before settling on working in either private or public healthcare?

Working for the NHS: Pros and cons

Most public sector healthcare workers are employed by the NHS, with opportunities for primary care nurses, secondary or emergency care nurses, and more specialised tertiary care nurses, who may work in areas such as cardiac surgery.

The NHS has a straightforward pay scale, and statistics published by the Nursing Times magazine in 2017 showed that public-sector nurses earn around £5,000 more a year than their private sector counterparts.

However, pay rises for public healthcare workers are rare, and research carried out by Professor Alex Bryson from University College London, and John Forth, a fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, found that doctors' median real earnings have dropped from £38 to £30 per hour in recent years.

At the same time, nurses' median real earnings rose by an average of just 1.4% between 2005 and 2015.

Career progression opportunities: Public vs private healthcare

Public healthcare workers employed by the NHS will typically have more room for career progression and development, whereas the private healthcare industry tends to be more limited in this respect.

Workers can move from one care sector to the other though. With the level of strain facing the NHS at present, private healthcare workers can easily move to public healthcare. At Virtual College, we have a range of health and social care e-learning courses that workers may wish to explore before switching care sectors.

On the other hand, private healthcare does tend to offer more opportunities for flexible working and annual leave. Holiday tends to be set out in the NHS, whereas private healthcare workers can usually have more say over when they would like to take annual leave.

The benefits of working in private healthcare

It could be argued that the private healthcare sector has to keep more on top of its spending than public healthcare, because its primary goal is to make a profit. However, despite having fewer hospitals, private healthcare is more attractive to some patients because it dramatically shortens their time on waiting lists, allowing them to be seen and treated much quicker.

Some controversy does surround private healthcare and the fact it has to be paid for, as some believe it favours the elite, leaving more vulnerable members of society battling long waiting lists and NHS shortages.

But doctors and nurses across each care sector are expected to provide the same standards of healthcare regardless.

Want to refresh your health and social care knowledge or keep up to date with the latest healthcare industry legislation? Check out Virtual College's healthcare e-learning courses here.

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