The NHS is under more pressure than ever and as a result, a growing number of people in the UK are considering private healthcare as an alternative to fulfil their medical needs. With the price of healthcare soaring, many of the population are unable to afford the costs of private healthcare on a self pay basis and therefore turn to insurance companies for access to the private sector. However, with the average price of health insurance at about £160 per month, accessibility reduces even more; this figure being beyond the means of many UK households. It therefore stands to reason that private healthcare in the UK is mainly in place to supplement the NHS rather than replace it, giving people with health insurance more options when considering treatment.

A recent survey conducted by Bupa confirmed that the main reasons people chose to purchase private medical insurance were a fear of superbugs, hospital cleanliness and the opportunity to avoid long waiting lists for treatment. These concerns are reasonable and also indicative of the problems the NHS face, but people's concerns on treatment in the NHS certainly go beyond those of cleanliness and waiting lists. It is therefore important to have a thorough understanding of the policy you are considering.

Healthcare is expensive. Whether treatment is publicly funded like in the NHS, or funded by a private medical insurance company, a patient is on some level a financial risk to that organisation. The NHS is limited in the way it can manage this risk as it is obligated to provide treatment for any UK citizen that requires it. Medical insurance companies however can. As a general rule, they offer insurance against short term conditions that are considered curable. They do not generally cover conditions that require long term or ongoing monitoring and/or maintenance. Examples of these kind of long term conditions are diseases such as diabetes, asthma or Alzheimer's.

It is therefore important to understand this approach when considering the purchase of private medical insurance and what you hope to gain from it. Added to this, insurance companies will also exclude customers for any previous conditions they have suffered from or been treated for. Look out for any excess on potential policies. These help manage financial risk to the company, but on the positive note can also reduce premiums to you.

As a further general rule, insurance companies will not cover things like pregnancy, fertility, organ transplants, injuries from dangerous sports and cosmetic surgery. Most insurance companies will offer worldwide cover, but again, as a general rule will exclude certain countries such as the USA, Mexico and Puerto Rico due to the high costs of healthcare in these locations.

PMI policies are complex and can vary widely. Companies that offer medical insurance vary as well with some of the larger organisations such as Bupa, AXA PPP and Pruhealth controlling a sizeable piece of the market. Smaller organisations such as WPA and Exeter Family Friendly are less well known but provide adequate and suitable insurance policies as good as any of the larger players. There are even smaller companies within a variety of niche markets such as Passport2Health that offer unique policies, but often do not cover for the big concerns such as cancer.

Due to the complexity of varying levels of cover and mis-selling concerns, it may therefore be worth consulting with a financial adviser on the best policy for you.