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Working in the NHS vs. Working in the Private Sector

NHS nurse

As a U.K. nurse, your two options are the private or public workforces. Check out the differences in working in the NHS vs. working in the private sector.


It’s no secret that the UK’s facing a major nursing shortage. While more and more patients flood our hospitals, there are fewer nurses to provide the necessary care.

But while our nation’s hospitals are dealing with this crisis, you might be dealing with a more personal crisis: with all of the nursing positions available, where do I want to work?

While you could easily land a hospital position working in the NHS, perhaps you’d prefer the flexibility that comes from working in the private sector.

Both options have their benefits and challenges, but it’s good to weigh your opportunities before you apply.

Working in the NHS

The National Health Service is the largest employer of healthcare professionals in the UK by a huge margin. Because it’s publicly funded, it has a unique set of advantages over working in the private sector.

Why should I work for the NHS?

Since it is funded by our tax dollars, nursing jobs within the NHS tend to be more secure than jobs in the private sector. Independent contractors and private investors may come and go, but the British Empire carries on.

While private organizations have been cutting nursing positions by the thousand, the public sector has in fact been adding positions.

Because of this security, nurses working in the NHS often make more than nurses in the private sector. Private companies do not have the same minimum salary requirements as the public sector, so private nurses are at the mercy of their employers.

There is also a huge potential for professional growth within the NHS. Smaller, private companies have a hard time offering the same opportunity for promotion as the public sector.

What problems come with working in the NHS?

The public sector isn’t all roses, however.

Since the NHS is such a large organization, any needed changes may be delayed significantly before they are addressed. Bureaucracy within the NHS often takes much more time to resolve issues.

The ubiquity of the NHS is also a double-edged sword. Since it serves all of our citizens, public hospitals can be crowded and cramped. This leads to larger caseloads, which you already know creates a more hectic work environment.

A hectic environment can lead to patients receiving lackluster care. There are only so many hours in the day, after all, but there will always be more patients. But, since nurses are stretched so thin, patients are sometimes ignored or given delayed care.

The professional hierarchy in the NHS may be harder to climb than in the private sector. Because there are more nurses competing for promotions, it may take years to work your way up the ladder to higher positions.

Working in the Private Sector

The bureaucracy and busyness of the NHS might send you heading for the hills. Luckily, there are other options. Thousands of private sector positions are available in a wide range of specialties.

Why should I work in the private sector?

Because private healthcare providers are so much smaller than the NHS, nurses in the private sector tend to have much lighter case loads. This allows patients to receive more personalized care. Nurses can give their patients the attention they deserve instead of shoving them down the conveyor belt as in the NHS.

Private healthcare providers can also give their employees more attention. You might need a position that offers more flexible hours than a public hospital. Maybe you would prefer being part of a more relational practice than the massive beast that is the NHS. If you want to raise a family without sacrificing your career, a private practice may offer the flexibility you need.

What problems come with the private sector?

Because they lack the public funding of the British government, private nursing positions lack the security found within the NHS. You are fully reliant on the success of your employer.

Private practices depend on their patients to keep them financially solvent. If profits wane, so might your position. Many nurses gladly take the job security of the NHS regardless of stress.

Private employers are not under the same guidelines as publicly funded organizations. Nurses in the private sector are not guaranteed the same protections as nurses working in the NHS.

In a private practice, you may find yourself working in a less stressful environment, but your salary might not be as generous as your counterparts in the NHS. You may not receive as much vacation time or sick days working for a private company.

Since patients in private clinics pay their costs out of their own pockets, private clinics only treat those wealthy enough to afford private treatment. You may feel like you are only treating a few of the patients who need care while those less fortunate are passed over. After all, they need care too.

Where can I find the right nursing job for me?

Whether you decide to work in the NHS or for an employer in the private sector, it’s important to choose the right position. While the NHS often conjures pictures of overcrowded hospitals, there is a great variety of specialized fields to consider.

You may decide that instead of a general hospital, you’d rather work in a care home. Or perhaps you thrive on the rush of the emergency room. You might love the high stakes of surgery.

Maybe you’re of gentler stock and would rather treat patients in their own home. If you’d like to really take it easy, cruise ships keep a medical crew on each voyage.

Whatever your temperament, there has never been a greater opportunity for nurses in this country. The current nursing shortage has created a demand for qualified and passionate nursing professionals that affords job candidates the ability to be picky.

The NHS alone has over twenty-thousand openings. Considering also the number of private agencies with open nursing positions, the hardest part about finding a job as a nurse is choosing from the thousands of available positions to find the job that best matches your passions, aspirations, and personality.

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