NHS vs. Private Nursing: Which One Should You Choose?

Jun 15, 2021

NHS vs. Private Nursing: Which One Should You Choose?

If you’re a qualified, experienced nurse living in the UK at the moment, you might feel like you’ve just won Britain’s Got Talent when it comes to looking for a new job. The public love you, employers are desperate to hire you and even Simon Cowell would be willing to give you a thumbs up.

But with so many jobs on offer, how do you decide the best environment for your next move? Yes, it’s the age-old question of NHS vs private nursing.

Never fear – whichever path you choose, we’re here to help you walk out onto that stage and prepare for your Golden Buzzer moment (or at least the ‘welcome aboard’ handshake). Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to take a private sector nursing job or if working in the NHS is a better match for you.


Like most publicly-funded organisations, the NHS has job descriptions that are linked to fixed salaries. The Agenda for Change system means that when you first start your new job, you’ll begin at the bottom of the salary banding and then move up a “point” each year. If you want to progress with your career, there’s no opportunity for a traditional promotion where you’re offered more responsibility in return for higher pay. Instead, you’ll need to apply for a different role in the banding higher than yours, which can often mean changing teams or locations. However, it can also be reassuring to know that your salary will continue to improve each year while you’re working within a banding.

Private healthcare organisations, on the other hand, are more likely to appraise their employees based on their performance and reward staff they want to keep. You’ll also be able to negotiate your salary when you’re initially offered a role, based on your experience and skillset. In the private sector, you might even be able to get a role with a bonus scheme attached.

You can find out more about pay rates for public and private sector nurses in this blog.

Career Development

One of the biggest perks of being an NHS nurse is the professional development on offer. This is an organisation that invests in its people, with plenty of training courses available as well as support like paid study days. The NHS wants their nurses to stay within the system, so offers a clear pathway for progression through its banding system. While this can be challenging in some ways (see the point on salary) it does set out a natural career path, and provides excellent long-term job security.

In the private sector, it’s very much dependent on the individual organisation. That’s not to say there aren’t organisations out there that focus on their staff’s professional development, but be mindful that many smaller organisations might not have the staffing or budgets available to invest in your career growth. This is something to discuss as part of the interview process, and weigh up alongside other benefits such as a potentially higher salary.


Workload and nurse-to-patient ratio is a key factor when deciding on a new role and needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Although public hospitals will have staffing models to ensure care is safe and manageable, it’s no secret that NHS nurses are often overworked, and staffing levels can quickly suffer when faced with unprecedented pressures such as those we have seen during COVID-19. However, many nurses find the work to be highly rewarding and enjoy the variety they get on a daily basis.

Private healthcare facilities, on the other hand, can provide a calmer work environment. Since private sector nurses are usually dealing with planned or elective treatments and procedures rather than emergencies, they often have more time to spend on giving quality care to each patient. This is the ideal setting for people looking to focus on developing their diagnostic skills, but you will not get the same diversity of experience as you would working in the NHS.


It’s hard to look past the NHS’ pension contribution, which is basically the ace up their sleeve. They’re willing to match your personal contribution and up the stakes even higher – when you contribute 10% of your salary to your pension, they will contribute an additional 14.38% (and this is set to increase to 20.68% in the near future). Private sector organisations will have their own pension scheme, with most using a third-party company to facilitate it. This will differ from company to company, so it’s another question to ask during the interview process.

Other benefits that come as standard for the NHS are flexible working hours and up to 52 weeks of maternity leave (made up of full pay, half pay and unpaid leave). Overtime and annual leave entitlements are standardised across the NHS and depend on how long you’ve worked in it. Including bank holidays, NHS staff are entitled to 35 days a year for the first five years of service, 27 days after five years and 41 days after 10 years.

You will likely get relatively similar benefits within the private sector, but leave and sick pay policies vary slightly depending on the employer and may have stricter conditions, so it’s important to check what your contractual entitlements will be. Many private sector organisations also offer free health insurance to staff, allowing you to cut the wait time for non-urgent or elective treatment.

Paid overtime is more common in private settings and usually given to employees at all levels. Within the NHS, you will get paid overtime if you work more than your standard 37.5 hours a week up until Band 7, but senior staff in Bands 8-9 are not entitled to overtime payments.


Deciding whether to work in the public or private sector can depend on many factors. It might be about where you are in your career, your commitments outside the workplace or the type of care you want to provide.

Luckily, our team of nursing recruitment specialists know the ins and outs of the industry (both private and public) and are here to talk through all the potential benefits and pitfalls. Give us a call today to take your next step!