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Private MRI Scan vs NHS Wait Times: A Comprehensive Guide to Informed Healthcare Decisions

Private MRI Scan vs NHS Wait Times: A Comprehensive Guide to Informed Healthcare Decisions
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With the NHS already under tremendous stress, it is no surprise that the wait times for getting Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans have skyrocketed in recent times. Many people consider getting private scans to save time and avoid excruciating delays. However, the decision is not entirely straightforward for most.

While getting an MRI scan via the NHS is much cheaper, the long wait to get one offsets the savings, especially during emergencies. Private scans, on the other hand, are quicker but cost a lot more if you don't have insurance. 

So, the question is: should you wait for the NHS or get a private MRI scan done? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is more nuanced than one might think.

If you are also faced with this dilemma, this article is tailor-made for you. In the following sections, we will cover both these approaches in detail and assess their advantages and disadvantages so you can make an informed decision about your healthcare needs. 

Overview of the NHS MRI scanning process

Understanding the NHS scanning process

What is the waiting time for receiving an MRI scan through the NHS?

The wait for an NHS MRI scan can vary a lot. Investigating conditions determines it. It also depends on the case's urgency and the region's healthcare capacity. Recent data shows estimated MRI scan wait times for different conditions:

These times are averages and can vary. For example, patients with suspected cancer often get priority. Healthcare providers may see them more than individuals with non-urgent musculoskeletal issues.

Recent reports from NHS England show that the average wait for diagnostic tests is 3.1 weeks. These tests include MRI scans. But, it can grow a lot based on demand and the region​.

The NHS has targets for diagnostic waiting times. It aims for a greatest of six weeks for most tests, including MRIs. But, due to varying factors, some patients might experience longer waits​ (NHS England)​.

For the best MRI wait times for specific conditions and regions, contact local NHS Trusts. Or, check the NHS's website.

How long is the referral waiting time for an MRI scan through the NHS?

The time a patient has to wait for their referral of an MRI scan through the NHS may vary significantly for several reasons. Some of them include urgency, types of scans, and demand. 

In most cases, referrals for patients whose condition may have an adverse outcome are treated as urgent, and you can be slotted to see the specialist in a few weeks. But non-emergency cases might have to endure long queues that may run up to several months in some instances.

You should remain in touch with your GP, who has referred you, and the imaging department regarding updates.  

How do I discover my position on the MRI waiting list in the NHS?

You need to reach out to the specific hospitals or clinics where the scan is scheduled in order to know where you stand on the waiting list for MRI (or CT) scans from the NHS. They can provide information on your approximate wait time and position on the list.

Also, it is advisable to keep in touch with your GP frequently. They may have access to updates on NHS waiting lists and can assist in tracking your referral status.

What is the typical duration for an urgent NHS referral?

Urgent referrals are fast-tracked. The NHS generally aims to make sure that you get your MRI within two weeks if your GP suspects serious medical conditions like cancer

The average waiting time, however, depends on the actual nature of the need, location, and the NHS centre's capacity. These urgent referrals are given priority to ensure timely diagnosis and treatment for critical conditions.

What is the cost of an MRI scan through the NHS?

A person who meets the criteria for MRI diagnostic tests will not be charged any money for it, as the NHS bears the costs. One of the most significant advantages of the NHS system is that patients do not have to pay for diagnostic procedures out of their pockets.

People ineligible for free Medicare might have to pay extra charges if they are travellers or migrants.

How long does it take to get an MRI scan results through the NHS?

The results from an MRI diagnostic test through the NHS might take a few days to a few weeks after the scan is completed. The wait duration depends on the need for specialist interpretation and processing work.

Urgent cases are often accelerated. Once the scanning is done and MRI images are sent to healthcare professionals, the radiologist will discuss your diagnostic results with you.

Overview of the private MRI scan process

A Private MRI scanner

People can choose a private clinic for their MRI diagnostic tests to reduce the waiting times. Usually, your GP makes referrals, but certain facilities also allow self-referrals. 

Standard diagnostic scans are taken once the appointment is scheduled with the clinic, and reports are sent to you.

What is the typical wait time to get a private MRI scan?

Compared to the NHS, private MRI scans usually have significantly shorter waiting times. Private MRI scans, by and large, are booked within a few days up to two weeks following referral.

The most vital advantage of private healthcare services is that you can schedule appointments at your convenience and get rapid service. The waiting duration can change according to the location, whether the imaging centre is accessible and what kind of scan you are taking.

What is the cost of private MRI Scan near me?

How much a private MRI scan costs in the UK depends on which part of the body is being scanned, the facility you use, and how complex or straightforward the procedure is. 

The prices fluctuate from £350 to £1500 and can be even more than this depending on the sophistication of the MRI machines.

Some scans, especially those requiring more sophisticated imaging or contrast agents, cost significantly more. 

It's essential for patients to check with the specific private provider for exact pricing and to inquire about the cost, such as the initial consultation, the scan itself, and the follow-up to discuss results.

How long does it take to get the MRI scan results?

MRI scans to enhance medical treatment

In a private healthcare setting, the turnaround time for receiving MRI scan results is typically quite fast. Patients waiting for results can expect their reports within a few days after a private MRI scan in London or other cities in the UK. 

The streamlined processes in private facilities and reduced volume of patients as compared to NHS services have contributed to this short time frame.

The radiologist analyses the results and forwards them to the referring GP, who will communicate with the private patient regarding the findings. Some private clinics provide direct communication or an online portal for the patients to get their reports quickly.

GetScanned makes it easier to undergo an MRI scan quicker. Simply enter your postcode and scan type, and GetScanned will present all options available. By avoiding long waits, we ensure fast access to diagnostic tests and imaging as and when required for all your health needs.

Cost of MRI without insurance:

The cost of a private MRI scan in the UK without insurance ranges from £200 to £1,500 for a single body area. The average cost is around £395. Prices vary based on factors like location, type of scan, and the specific clinic. Some providers offer MRI scans for as low as £2501. Others charge over £1,000 for more advanced scans3. To get the most affordable option, it's best to compare prices across many clinics in your area. Many clinics also offer flexible payment plans. These plans make private MRI scans more accessible.

Private MRI scans vs NHS, which is better?

Comparison of private and NHS MRI scan services

When comparing private MRI (and CT) scans with those offered by the NHS, the answer to "Which is better?" largely depends on individual circumstances and priorities.

Patients can usually schedule private scans within days or weeks, and the results are often available promptly, typically within a few days. This speed is a crucial factor for those requiring quick diagnosis or for whom prolonged wait times could exacerbate anxiety or health conditions.

Additionally, private centres may offer greater scheduling flexibility, taking in weekday evenings and weekend appointments, a better MRI scanner, and a more pleasant patient environment. 

It comes at a cost, of course, with the prices running from several hundred through to well over one thousand pounds depending on the type of scan.

On the other hand, the NHS offers free MRI scans to every patient regardless of their financial status. It forms part of the fundamental ethos of healthcare based not on the ability to pay but on need.

The major letdown in this type of consultant-led treatment is the waiting time, which can sometimes be excruciatingly long, especially for non-urgent cases. Prolonged delays are associated with stress, often compromising the expected health outcomes for many patients.

Ultimately, the question of going for a private versus the NHS MRI scan depends on the urgency and cost more than anything else. For those who can afford it and urgently need a scan, private healthcare might be the better option. 

But for patients for whom a private MRI scan cost is a significant concern and the medical situation less pressing, the NHS remains a viable and valuable option.

Suitability for claustrophobic patients: Private vs NHS MRI:

Private MRI scans may be better for claustrophobic patients. They are better than NHS scans in some cases.

  • Private hospitals have strict criteria for granting practicing privileges to doctors. This helps assure patients they are being seen by experienced specialists. This can provide a higher level of care and accommodation for claustrophobic patients.
  • Private practice allows surgeons to provide more direct one-on-one care for patients. This personalized attention may help claustrophobic patients feel more at ease.
  • Patients getting private healthcare can choose to have private medical treatment at a private hospital or other facility. This allows them to select a provider that can best accommodate their claustrophobia.

But, the NHS also provides options for claustrophobic patients:

  • Patients can visit the UK for up to 6 months for treatment at an NHS hospital. Their government must pay for the care under a healthcare arrangement. This allows access to NHS services.
  • The NHS has measures to help claustrophobic patients. They provide sedatives and let patients listen to music. They also use open MRI scanners when possible.

In summary, private practice may offer more personal care. It also offers more options for claustrophobic patients. But, the NHS also has available accommodations. The best choice depends on the patient's needs and preferences. It also depends on their healthcare coverage.

Conclusion: A private MRI scan is best for faster and more expedited diagnostic results

Having an MRI scan through either the NHS or privately depends on the personal situation and is a tough choice. In cases where the NHS is slow, and the need for a scan is immediate, private scans provide the critical speed.

The NHS provides low-cost or economical solutions for everyone, although it has the disadvantage of longer waiting periods.

When deciding, you should consider the urgency of your medical situation, financial condition, and ability to wait longer. Each option has its value, and the decision depends upon one's health requirements and goals.

Discover the simplicity and speed of GetScanned for your diagnostic test needs. Say goodbye to long waits and embrace our quick, hassle-free booking for an MRI scan in private clinics. Enter your postcode, choose your scan, and let us connect you to the best options.


Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions that might help you make the decision between NHS and a private clinic for getting your MRI:

1. Is the NHS MRI safe?

MRI scans offered through NHS hospitals are considered safe and effective diagnostic tools. The scans use magnetic fields and radio waves that create detailed pictures of the inside body part devoid of these ionising radiations in X-rays and CT scans. 

MRI scans, therefore, are a safer option, especially if they are to be repeated. For your safety, the NHS facilities will test for any contraindications before conducting a scan.

2.Can I go back to the NHS after going private?

Yes, patients can revert to NHS care after getting private MRI scans. Up until the moment of applying for private scans, all NHS services are available to eligible individuals. 

This gives patients a way of choosing their healthcare without kicking away the privilege of NHS services. 

Nevertheless, it would be best to communicate with the NHS near you about private treatments, including MRI or other diagnostic procedures.

3.Who qualifies for the NHS?

All individuals permanently residing in the UK with lawful and legally settled residency rights can access various NHS services. Non-residents like students or individuals on certain visas can also apply for NHS coverage in certain circumstances.

4.Can I request an MRI scan on the NHS?

Patients can get an MRI scan from the NHS if their GP or a hospital specialist referred them. That said, the claim is clinical need-based. 

A healthcare worker evaluates your complaints and comorbidities to determine whether an MRI scan is needed for diagnostic or treatment planning purposes. The NHS then ranks and prioritises MRI scans based on urgency, medical necessity, and wait times.