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NHS or Private sector: where to work as a nurse?

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

Whilst the National Health Service (NHS) is highly regarded to provide good staff benefits for nurses, can the private sector offer the same or maybe exceed the advantages of working for the NHS? Let’s dive into the pros and cons of working for the NHS and private sector.


The NHS, being publicly funded by the government offers a lot of opportunities to its staff. From training and development, study days, and a defined career path, working in the NHS provides assurance that you’ll achieve your goals as long as you work for it. In the private sector, aspiring for a career development may be limited and restrictive. Being a smaller facility compared to the NHS, the private sector doesn’t offer a wide range of areas to work. Most private hospitals consist of wards, theatres and outpatient departments. NHS, on the other hand, has a variety of avenues to try and later on take your career to the next level by undertaking more senior roles. However, NHS being a big organisation means more staff competing for senior positions and being approved to attend courses. Hence, working in an independent sector may give you a better chance to take study days and courses as less staff means less competition.


The NHS follows Agenda for Change as its system to work out staff salary. If you start on point 1 as a Band 5 you will get your increment every year with a successful annual appraisal. However, if you feel confident to take a more senior role with the skills and experience you have acquired over the years, you can apply as a Band 6 or higher and you don’t have to wait to reach the top of the pay ladder. Private sector, on the other hand, can give you a lucrative offer based on your skillset. You can negotiate your salary and agree with the hiring manager before signing the contract. So if you are a Band 5 but have substantial proficiency in what you do, you can communicate that in the interview and they will offer you more than what you currently earn. But bear in mind that pay in private sector is unregulated. A lot will also offer sign-in bonus, yearly or bi-annual bonuses schemes.


Pension contribution is probably the most tremendous advantage that the NHS has to offer. Although you have to contribute almost 10% of your salary, the NHS will not only match that but will actually contribute more (14%). The private sector offers their own private pension as well but it differs for each company has most use a third party supplier for this. For instance, one Filipino UK nurse shared that her pension contribution in a particular private hospital is 5% and the employer contribution provides 4%. Clearly, NHS beats any private pension there is and NHS takes pride of this benefit to its staff.


The NHS has a very family friendly environment from flexible working hours, sick pay and maternity pay. With flexible working hours families are able to juggle childcare as a lot of staff can arrange they’re shifts based on their family needs. Depending on your length of service staff will get paid for up to 6 months of sick pay and up to 9 months of maternity pay (if you do not choose to spread it over a year). There is also a 2 week paternity pay for fathers. As for holiday pay NHS staff can get 29 days once an employee has 5 years NHS service, and increase to 33 days when they achieve 10 years NHS service.

The private sector also offers the same benefits as the NHS regarding those mentioned above. Although regarding sick pay, most companies will only pay for your sickness absence for a limited time and some do not even offer it. Holiday pay is not that different from the NHS, most offer 25 days plus bank holidays and it increases with the length of service.

Although the NHS provides free treatment for our medical needs, we normally need to go through our GPs and seek referral to be seen by consultants and wait for an appointment in order to get a procedure done unless it is an emergency that needs urgent medical attention. Most private sectors offer free health insurance as well which cuts the waiting time for a non-urgent medical treatment to take place. This is probably one of the best things about working in the private sector as it gives you another option to expedite the process of getting your medical treatment.


It all really depends what area you are working in. Ward nurses in a private sector may have a lighter workload than NHS ward nurses as they usually look after patients admitted for an elective surgical treatment or diagnostic procedures. As an acute facility, NHS ward nurses not only admit patients for elective procedures but also provide care to patients with other comorbidities and more complex needs.

Most private hospitals also offer patients their own private rooms. This space allows the nurse more convenience to carry out interventions and provide more time and privacy to the patient. Most wards have bays for males and females which can be quite restrictive when carrying out orders. However, it shouldn’t mean less quality of care delivery but just lacking the personal space that private rooms have to offer.

Conversely, theatres in a private sector has a faster pace compared to the NHS because patients are generally fit and well and their surgeries are less complicated. In addition to this, surgeries in a private sector are done by consultants which means there’s no teaching involved to junior doctors which is a normal scenario in the NHS. Staff are also assigned more responsibilities as there are less managers in the private sector. This ranges from simple tasks such as ordering equipment and supplies for the department to getting loan sets to more corporate tasks such as auditing and doing the allocation. Although this is the case, you may find that employing a wide array of roles and responsibilities can also hone you to be a better healthcare provider through diversifying your experience.

Each sector has its own pros and cons, so it is dependent on the career goals you have set for yourself. NHS, being a large organisation can offer multitude of opprotunities and options of areas to work for. Private sector can also offer benefits that aren’t available in the NHS and may be suitable for those who have vast experience in the field as a nurse who want to receive a higher salary. This is just a rough guide for you to make the best informed decision on what sector to work for. Whatever you choose, it should be in line with your goals, it should work to meet your personal needs and lastly, delivering safe and quality care to the patients you’re looking after should still be your utmost priority.

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