The 6 differences between private physiotherapy and the NHS, and why shouldn’t I just wait on the NHS?

Mar 8, 2023

The 6 Major Differences Between Private Physiotherapy And The NHS

The media has been discussing how people are now turning to private physiotherapy and private
healthcare because they have been waiting for months just to get an appointment, and then told it will be years before they can get the intervention they require, particularly with knee and hip replacements. 

At Optimal Physio, we have spoken to a lot of patients lately who have been asking about the benefits of private physiotherapy, and the advantages compared to the free healthcare service in the UK.  We have also heard a lot of stories of various experiences from telephone appointments and struggling to get access to their GP to long waiting lists and being given vague answers about how long to expect to wait before gaining access to the NHS service.  Then there is another group who have waited so patiently only to be given two to three appointments and a basic level of exercises before being discharged.  Not exactly worth waiting six months plus for. 

Private Physiotherapy

Hands on treatment is more available in private practice as we have more time available with our patients

So in this blog, we’re going to highlight the 6 major differences between private physiotherapy and the NHS and look at who private physiotherapy is best suited to.  Not everyone can afford private physio and I understand and respect that fully.  I worked within the NHS system, I was educated within that system and I enjoyed and benefited from it for over 7 years.  It helps a lot of people every single day, it has a lot of excellent clinicians, it has a lot of people who genuinely care about their patients, but the system does not allow them to do their jobs to the best of their ability.  The NHS is still the best option for some people, but for others it’s sadly no longer appropriate.  

I have many thoughts on how the NHS could improve (and with out hiring more people or increasing it’s budget) but that is for another day. 

So what exactly is the difference between the NHS and private physiotherapy in Scotland?

1 – Much Shorter Waiting Times

The first major difference between private physiotherapy and the NHS is the length of waiting times for appointments.

Due to the challenges and immense pressure on the free healthcare service partly caused by the pandemic, partly caused by their systematic inefficiencies, and partly caused by their culture.  We have spoken to patients who are frustrated with the 16-24 week plus waiting times (and this is the minimum with some areas being much longer).

Whilst we completely sympathise with the NHS, this is affecting people just like you, who are suffering with severe pain, limited movement, and at risk of their injuries turning into something far worse.  The NHS is great with cancers, heart disease, strokes and urgent and serious conditions.  With non life threatening and chronic pain issues however their service has declined over many years.  

We can offer appointments within days, and offer online booking so you can quickly find an appointment that suits your schedule. 

Whilst we appreciate not everyone can afford private physio we still want to be able to offer advice and education to everyone.  It is also important tot ensure physiotherapy is actually the most suitable path for each individual.  That’s why we have loads of free resources and downloadable information on each of our injury pages on our website.  We  also offer a free 15minute ‘Fit for Physio” appointment where you can meet one of our team either on line or face to face and ask us any questions about our service our your own situation, to make sure that physiotherapy is the correct next step for you. 

2 – Fast and Accurate Diagnosis

As well as being able to see an expert sooner with private physiotherapy, all of our team are highly experienced and can give you an accurate diagnosis during your assessment session.

From there, your therapist will explain in a straight-forward, jargon-free way what the issue is, what needs to happen next and offer you a tailored treatment plan that is unique to you.  We have longer appointments and treatment sessions than the NHS so we can explain things clearly and answer all of your questions. For example we allocate 60-90 minutes for a new patient where as the NHS system typically allocates 20-40 minutes.

This means you can leave your assessment with out the confusion and anxiety that you have been dealing with.  Having clarity on what the plan is to recovery is like a weight of your mind and many of our clients feel very relieved after the assessment as they now have a clear understanding of their problem. 

Due to time pressures within the free healthcare service, we have spoken to clients who have been to several NHS appointments and still don’t know what the issue is because no one has taken the time, or care to explain things to them. 

Unable to get an appointment with her GP, Jane, a busy grandmother, turned to Optimal Physio for advice and physiotherapy treatment for her hip pain.

I had an appointment with a physiotherapist called Darren at Optimal Physio in Largs and I got a clear injury diagnosis. I’ve been given a series of hip exercises to help strengthen the muscles around my hip and back and ease the pain, and I’m already feeling a big difference.

3 – Much More Appointment Flexibility

The third major difference between private physiotherapy and the NHS is that you have much more flexibility in the date and time of your appointments.

If you are referred to a physiotherapist by your GP (rather than prescribed painkillers and rest), you generally receive a letter in the post weeks later with a time and date for your appointment – There are no alternatives provided, and if you can’t make it, it’s very difficult to re-arrange a date and time that suits you.

With private physiotherapy, you have a much wider range of appointment dates and times available to you, so you don’t have to miss work, or arrange childcare for your little ones.

Laura, an NHS worker suffering with knee pain highlighted this as one of the benefits she found by coming to us.

“My favourite thing about attending Optimal Physio was definitely the friendly and helpful staff.  They were excellent. I also liked that I could have an appointment out of hours at a time that suited my schedule, meaning I did not have to arrange time off from work.

4 – Hands-On Treatment

In our clinics, you will receive face-to-face appointments with hands-on treatment from our expert physiotherapists, which gives you the best chance of recovering from injuries sooner, reducing pain faster, and improving your mobility quicker.

Compare this to the free healthcare version which will include no (or very little) hands-on treatment, or even worse, appointments may be held virtually over telephone. So after waiting for months, you may not even get to see a physiotherapist face-to-face, and even if you do, the treatment sessions you will receive will be more limited as they are under pressure to discharge patients as early as possible due to their waiting lists and government driven targets. 

The cost of this is that it is likely to take longer to diagnose your problem, and much longer to treat the root cause which means you are left in pain and worried about what could happen if things get worse.

We were amazed to hear in the clinic recently, that a woman suffering from a suspected rotator cuff injury was advised by 111 to visit her local pharmacist for advice and medication this is definitely not the job of a pharmacist.

5 – First Class Service and Aftercare

If you visit one of our Clarkston or Largs physiotherapy clinics, you are listened to, you can ask questions, and you can have things explained to you in a way that you understand and at your own pace.

We pride ourselves on the first-class service that every single member of our team delivers, and we know from our patients’ stories, that this has a huge impact on the overall experience you will receive with in our clinics.  

“I thought pain and stiffness were a normal part of ageing and that limits on everyday activities just had to be accepted.

Then, over a few weeks, my left shoulder became stiff and painful, I was unable to put on my jacket and the pain kept me awake at night.

I attended Steven and after a thorough assessment he diagnosed a frozen shoulder. He prescribed a course of exercises, with a helpful online exercise video, to do between visits.

After 6 visits the shoulder regained most of its flexibility and the pain reduced markedly. I continued the exercises until the problem was resolved.

I’ve learned that getting old (I’m 71) does not mean you have to accept painful stiff joints.”  Archie Toppin 5 star google review

Along with this, we’re easier to contact with our amazing admin team looking after our phones and being open every weekday, so we’re on hand whenever you need to speak to us.

You will also have direct email access to your therapist so you can ask them any questions you need answering at any point in your rehab journey.  We want to be in your corner all the way and support, treat and guide you to get better and stay better. 

Elizabeth, a retired GP was suffering with recurring Sciatica and had been told by the NHS that nothing could be done, before she came to us

“When I first went to Optimal Physio, I was incredibly sceptical, and unsure if physiotherapy could help. I had no goal, no expectations, other than to get some professional help. I’d used their services before and trusted their judgement. Steven and the staff at the Optimal Physio were friendly and professional, they listened to my story and helped me recover fully so I can enjoy walking again this summer.”

6 – Fast and Complete Treatment

The final major difference between private physiotherapy and the NHS is that you receive fast, and complete treatment.

With private physiotherapy, there is no restrictions to the number of sessions that you can take, and this means that we are able to work with you to create a detailed treatment plan that will get you as healthy as possible.  We love to help you recovery fully and then prevent it from coming back again. We want you to enjoy all the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle and our aim is to improve your health wellbeing beyond the level you were previously at regardless of age. 

In comparison to free healthcare, you may be limited in the number of sessions you are allowed (even if you need more to fully recover), or your sessions are stopped once you reach a (very low) baseline of recovery, such as being back at work or managing basic activities of daily living.  This is certainly progress but if you normally enjoy long walks, run a 10km or enjoy the gym then we want to ensure we get you back safely and fully to the things that you love to do. 

The free version of physiotherapy can be a box ticking exercise, and it is unlikely that you will be treated to the point that you are happy. Instead, you will be treated until you reach a minimum level which meets their standard not your own and discharged even if you aren’t fully recovered with your mobility and are still suffering with aches and pains.

The NHS also has not been able to invest in it’s physio services as budgets continue to be cut.  As a result rehab space has been lost and less rehab is now being delivered.  In contrast we have invested in our service and have more technology and resources to be able to provide a more comprehensive treatment plan.  Whether that includes shockwave, gait analysis, nutritional assessments or orthotic prescription we can deliver all of this and much more, to ensure you get better and stay better.  After all we want you to become the best version of yourself (even the Optimal Version)! 

The Downside of Waiting

With the current waiting times, a quick fix injury can easily become a more life-altering injury.

A stiff ankle from walking or exercising can easily develop into something more chronic and in turn, affect your mobility.

Back pain can lead to long-term issues with your posture and develop new habits and lifestyle choices which limit the quality of your life unnecessarily. 

It’s sad and disappointing to learn how some people just wait and suffer with simple injuries as they believe it’s just “old age” or “wear and tear” and that nothing can be done.  I’ve seen many people over the years who had wrote themselves off and had previous treatment which was unsuccessful so they believed physiotherapy didn’t work or couldn’t work for them.  This caused them to. Believe that exercise was harmful choose to avoid certain movements and activities and put up with frequent discomfort which only confirmed that they were right that “you can’t do these things at my age”.  

Delayed treatment can quickly turn into something more chronic that could require help for a longer length of time, so make sure that you consider this when thinking about your route of treatment.  Evidence clearly demonstrates the early treatment is provided the quicker your recover and the less treatment that is required. 

Who Is Private Physiotherapy Suited To?

So, we have covered 6 major difference between private physiotherapy and the NHS, and we hope that we have helped you understand the advantages of choosing private.

We would recommend that you reach out to our team if you want:

  • To be seen within a few days, rather than a few months
  • To be able to book appointments at convenient times that fit your schedule and check availability online 24 hours a day
  • To finally discover the root cause of your pain or injury, and receive a clear, easy to understand and personalised treatment plan
  • To get the fastest results possible with face-to-face appointments and hands-on treatment, with exercises sent 
  • To be listened to, and have the opportunity to ask questions in a relaxed environment and be given the confidence and reassurance necessary to start making progress without worrying about making your problem worse
  • To be treated to the maximum level of recovery that is possible for you, so you have the highest quality of life possible, and get to the best level of mobility and strength you can achieve

How To Find Out More About Private Physiotherapy

If you think that private physiotherapy is a good fit for you, we have a variety of options available so you can get more information and make the right decision for you.

If you want to visit our clinic, and speak to one of our expert team, you can book a free fit for physio appointment by clicking HERE.

In this session, you will be able to speak to a physiotherapist on a 1-1 basis, who will talk with you about your current aches and pains, how it is impacting your life, and what options are available for you.  This is perfect if you are unsure if physio is the right option for you or you unsure what will be involved in treatment. 

Alternatively, if you want to speak to a member of our team from the comfort of your own home, you can book a video consultation by clicking HERE.

Due to extremely high demand, with more and more people putting their faith in private practices, we would encourage you to contact us as soon as possible by calling us on 0333 3010205.

We also have FREE, downloadable information for people with Back PainKnee Pain, or Neck And Shoulder Pain

Join The Conversation

If you’d like to have your say on this article feel free to add a comment using the form, we love to hear your thinking and open the table to discussion, and hopefully share resources, blog posts, articles and information that’s useful to you!

If you’d like to discuss anything in private instead, just get in touch using the contact details at the bottom of the page!



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