NHS & private maternity care

NHS vs private health care: what are your options?

6 min read

You can pay to have your baby privately or you can ‘mix and match’ private and NHS care. From 3D scans to private midwives, this guide covers what’s available before, during and after the birth.

Share this
email

Find the right place to give birth

Discover whether birth in a local labour ward, birth centre or at home would be best for you.

Find your best fit

Antenatal care

Most women in the UK give birth supported by free NHS care. If you’re having a straight-forward pregnancy, that means that you get seven to ten NHS antenatal appointments with a midwife as well as free scans and blood tests. If you have more complicated needs, you’ll be referred to see a consultant doctor in addition to your midwife appointments.

Most women don’t pay for any care on top of this, but a few do choose to pay for all, or some, of their antenatal care. It’s possible to have a private midwife for antenatal care but still give birth in an NHS hospital or birth centre. Find out more about non-NHS, private midwives.

You can also have private antenatal care provided by obstetricians and midwives in private clinics and hospitals, or private wings of NHS hospitals, but there are not many of these in the UK.

We have put together a list of private hospitals and maternity wings in the UK to help you find out what’s available, and you can use our Birth Choice tool to find out what private care is available at your local NHS units.

Private pregnancy scans

In our guide to NHS and private ultrasound scans we go through which scans you’ll be offered by the NHS to check that everything is going well with your pregnancy, and what’s available privately.

In our 2016 survey of nearly 2,000 parents who have had a baby in the last five years, one in six told us they had paid for an additional scan during pregnancy, costing them just over £100 on average.

For more than half of parents, the key reason for paying for a scan privately was to get detailed 3D and 4D images of their baby. Others decided to pay for additional scans for other reasons, including:

  • to discover their baby’s gender
  • to get additional prints of the 2D scan
  • for added reassurance
  • to see a specialist
  • underlying medical conditions.

A small number of expectant parents in our survey said they paid for additional blood tests (4%), often to check for health conditions and for additional reassurance.

Maternity care during labour and birth

Having private care during labour can cost around £2,000 – £5,000, although packages will vary. If you require an obstetrician, you will have to pay their fees on top of that. Fully private maternity hospitals are not widely available in UK, and most are located around the London area. If you’re interested in giving birth in a private hospital, or in the private wing of an NHS hospital, visit our ‘Private hospitals and facilities’ page to find out more.

Most women use NHS facilities to have their baby. If you give birth in an NHS maternity unit, it’s likely that you’ll be moved to a postnatal ward after having your baby if you’re staying overnight, and you’ll probably have to share the ward with a number of other mothers.

Sometimes women having an NHS birth choose to pay to hire a private ‘amenity’ room within the NHS maternity unit. The rooms are usually just off the postnatal ward, and usually cost about £70 a night, but can range between about £25 and £200. The midwives looking after you will still be NHS midwives. Around 5% of women in our survey decided to pay for a private room like this in an NHS hospital when they gave birth. The majority told us this was because they wanted privacy after giving birth.

You can check if NHS hospitals near you offer private postnatal rooms, and how much they are, by using our tool.

Continuity of care

In a recent study, NCT found that women who see between one and four midwives during the antenatal period report a better quality of antenatal care than women who see five or more. If you book with a private or independent midwife, you will usually be looked after by one or two midwives who will deliver all of your care.

We have put together a guide on the benefits knowing your midwife, and how you can increase the chances of getting continuity of care on the NHS.

Women who choose to have an independent or private midwife are often planning to have a home birth. Private midwives can be a good option for those who are unable to get support for a home birth from local NHS services. If you’re having a home birth with a private midwife, you may need to be transferred to hospital because you or your baby needs extra help. In this case, the NHS midwives and doctors in the hospital will take over your care. However, your private midwife will still be there to act as a supportive birth partner.

If you’re planning a hospital birth, you can still hire a private midwife, but many are not able to act as midwives once in an NHS hospital. Instead, they will assume the role of birth partner, as Amanda from Independent Midwives UK explains in this video.

Postnatal care

Women having an NHS birth will receive postnatal care from midwives once they’ve been discharged from hospital after having their baby. This may be at home, or at a local clinic or children’s centre. Although most women are happy with the number of postnatal appointments they have, you might want more regular support.

Women who have given birth with private midwives can pay to carry on seeing the same midwife they had throughout their pregnancy and birth. Others may choose to supplement their NHS postnatal care by having additional private appointments as well.

In our survey, we found that a small number of parents choose to hire practical postnatal support in the form of a doula (2%). Doulas are not health professionals, but are experienced in helping you at home with your new baby. Parents in our survey chose to pay for support from a doula to learn more about looking after a baby, and to get personalised, one-to-one support.

Just visiting the UK?

For information about charges for visitors from overseas, see the NHS Choices website or the Birthrights Fact Sheet on Foreign Nationals and Maternity Care.

More from Which?

 


References

These are the sources of information used in this article:

Plotkin, L, Support Overdue: Women’s experiences of maternity services, National Federation of Women’s Institutes/NCT: London (2017)

National Collaborating Centre for Women’s and Children’s Health, Intrapartum care: care of healthy women and their babies during childbirth. NICE Clinical Guideline 190,London: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (2014)

Sandall J, Soltani H, Gates S, Shennan A, Devane D, Midwife-led continuity models versus other models of care for childbearing women, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004667.pub4

 

 

Share this
email
Advice for every step of your pregnancy

We can support you on your journey as a parent with relevant news, advice and information on Which? services directly to your inbox.