Private healthcare for urogynaecological conditions

Some of the people we spoke to had opted to have private healthcare instead of, or on top of care from the NHS.

This section covers:

  • Reasons for opting for private healthcare
  • Experiences of private healthcare
  • Paying for private healthcare

Reasons for opting for private healthcare

One of the main reasons we heard for ‘going private’ was to see a specialist sooner. Jan, Kerry, Elizabeth, and others said they had experienced long waiting times to see a healthcare professional in the NHS, made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. Clare and Phoebe had seen a GP privately. Phoebe found using the private health insurance (provided through her workplace) quicker and easier than trying to get an NHS appointment. Elly, who has prolapse, saw a specialist privately after having appointments cancelled because of Covid-19.

Jan chose to go privately for help with prolapse and urinary incontinence because she “wasn’t really getting anywhere” with the NHS route.

However, even in private healthcare, it could take a while to see a specialist. Laura described “feeling immensely ill and you’re having to try and find your own treatment and your own people to treat you and then dealing with the worst thing you can be told when you’re in that much pain is, “We can see you, but it’s three, four months’ time”.

Beth, Elly, Kezia, Amy, and others chose private health care when they felt they were not getting a diagnosis or effective treatment in the NHS. Beth said, “I’m really tired and exhausted and frustrated therefore I’m gonna go down this route instead”. Elly had also felt “I’ve had enough, I need some clear answers”. Phyliss had lost trust in NHS services. She went privately and was eventually seen at a tertiary clinic. Amy felt the NHS specialist wasn’t listening to her and went for private healthcare. Mehar and others felt they could only get the tests and treatments they needed privately.

Mehar was able to get more tests when she had private care. She thinks that NHS doctors would do more tests if they were not underfunded.

Private healthcare could also be used for a second opinion and/or access to treatments that weren’t available on the NHS. Megan got a second opinion in private healthcare when she was told by her NHS specialists that she might need to have her bladder removed if other treatments didn’t work. Some people we talked to had paid to see osteopaths and chiropractors.

We were told that some private UTI clinics had a different approach to diagnosis and treatment compared to NHS services. Laura didn’t think her GP would prescribe antibiotics for her chronic UTI: she paid for a one-off private prescription for a short course of antibiotics when she was due to go on holiday, in case she had a UTI. Elizabeth and Megan were both admitted to hospital because of complications from UTIs, which left them feeling they had exhausted the help available on the NHS so they decided to go private.

Experiences of private healthcare

One of the biggest draws to private healthcare for the people we spoke to was having more time in appointments to discuss their concerns, get information and ask questions. Jane said she has often gone private for urogynaecology issues because “I know it’s the only way I can get someone who will give me the time”. Mehar said that that private healthcare felt more “like teamwork” between healthcare professionals and patients. Sharon felt that private care was more thorough and that health problems were approached holistically, compared to quick appointments and minimal information in the NHS. Leah appreciates that the private clinic she attends is very responsive, for example if she contacts them with concerns about medication side-effects. Penny asks, “why do you have to pay to get someone [a healthcare professional] to listen to what you have to say and spend time with you?”

Although Jane feels a bit uncomfortable about going private, it has been important to build trust and have time to talk about her concerns.

There were sometimes other benefits of private healthcare too. Sarah likes that she has more choice about who she sees and when. Amy and Mehar saw specialists with particular interests in prolapse, and hypermobility conditions, for more specific advice and treatment. Penny said the private clinic she went to had “state of the art” equipment, compared to the “creaky, dinky old stuff” in the NHS. Helen liked that there were more treatment options available to her privately, including complementary and alternative medicine.

Not everyone had a positive experience of the care received privately for urogynaecological problems. Janet felt disappointed and “very miserable” after having treatment at a private appointment when her symptoms got worse. Phoebe told us that the urogynaecologist she saw was rude and flippant about surgery, which left her feeling uncared for: “the cynical side of me wonders whether it was because I was a private patient, but I mean he gets more money from first surgery approach. I don’t want to think like that but it’s hard not to. I felt very [much] like a number”. Phoebe had also seen two different private physiotherapists and was shocked at how different their diagnoses, advice and approach to physiotherapy treatment had been.

Helen chose to see a private urogynaecologist but found her experience no better than the NHS.

Laura felt the duty of care from her private specialist was lacking and she struggled to get a follow-up appointment because the service was so overstretched.

Paying for private healthcare

Being able to afford private healthcare was possible for some, but it was a challenge for others. Some had access to private healthcare through their own or their partner’s workplace schemes. Others had arranged a private healthcare plan themselves.

Mehar said private healthcare was not something she could easily afford but felt she had no choice. Penny had a mesh removal operation privately because the waiting list of the nearest NHS centre had closed; she took out interest-free credit and is paying off the loan. Parminder took out private health insurance during the Covid-19 pandemic, but this became too expensive so she asked to be transferred over to the NHS; this was possible because the specialist she saw worked in both settings. Felicity feels angry that she has paid thousands of pounds for care which she felt should have been able to receive on the NHS.

Kerry says she is fortunate to have been able to afford private physiotherapy, but knows that this isn’t an option for others.

It was sometimes stressful negotiating with health insurance companies about coverage. Rose has private healthcare but found that it didn’t include any appointments or treatments for her prolapses, because they were classed as a pre-existing condition. Leeanne found that her private healthcare insurance had restrictions on where she could have mesh removal and by which surgeons. Phoebe’s healthcare insurance company had a maximum of six pelvic floor physiotherapy sessions and would not cover the physiotherapist she had found herself.

You can read more about experiences of using and navigating healthcare services here.