Ultrasound is an imaging technique that uses sound waves to create a real-time image of the inside of the body. It’s a useful imaging modality for clinicians in diagnosing, monitoring, evaluating and treating numerous medical conditions. In the UK there are two different healthcare systems available: The National Health Service (NHS) and private providers.

In the UK, NHS ultrasound services are provided by hospitals and some medical centres throughout the country. To access NHS ultrasound services, you need an NHS number and must present with a referral letter from your GP or consultant. NHS scan times vary depending on area but tend to be available within 6-8 weeks of request date.

Private ultrasound services are paid by the individual or their private insurance when the ones provided by the NHS are free but often offer quicker appointment times and technology such as 3D/4D scanning not available on most NHS scanners. These appointments usually involve traveling to a private imaging centre or clinic which specialises in these scans at specific times throughout the day.

NHS Ultrasound

NHS ultrasound services are available free of charge on the NHS and are carried out by experienced sonographers. Although not all NHS hospitals use the latest ultrasound equipment, you can rest that their equipment is safe and reliable and is able to provide accurate images of your internal organs or baby. NHS facilities also provide support and guidance throughout the scan.

Let’s look at what you can expect from a NHS ultrasound and how it compares to a private ultrasound scan:


When considering the cost of ultrasound scans, it is important to understand that private ultrasound scans often vary in price.

NHS ultrasound scans are offered free of charge for permanent UK residents. Private ultrasounds, on the other hand, come with a different set of costs. Depending on the type of scan you get and where you receive it from , prices range from £49 up to £690 or more. Most people will find it convenient to book a private scan at an independent provider where prices are lower than clinics and hospitals.


When it comes to availability, the main difference between NHS ultrasound scans and private ultrasound scans is the ability to choose when and where the scan takes place.

NHS scans are typically only available at certain times of the day, at specific hospitals or other healthcare facilities with trained sonographers. You’ll need to make an appointment with your GP or midwife in order to use them, and you will need a referral from your doctor before getting your scan. The wait times for these appointments can range from a few days to several weeks depending on where you live and how busy your hospital is as well as the urgency of the scan.

Private ultrasound scans are generally more readily available, so you may be able to get a same-day appointment depending on where you live. These scans cam be costly but will often provide increased comfort and convenience. Some private clinics also offer more advanced services such as 4D imaging, gender determination, and video recordings of the scan that are not generally available through NHS services.

Quality of Service

The quality of service between NHS and private ultrasound scans is a very important factor to consider.

When it comes to NHS ultrasound, it is important to remember that there may be long waiting times for certain scans and appointment availability could be limited due to the financial restraints of the NHS. Due to these limited resources, the length of time you can expect to spend with the sonographer may also be shorter than a private scan.

Private Ultrasound

Private ultrasound scans provide a more convenient and timely service than those conducted at NHS locations. Private scans are conducted by registered healthcare professionals and the available equipment used is mostly of high quality, allowing them to provide highly accurate results. Not only that, private ultrasound clinics have shorter wait times and provide a more comfortable environment compared to NHS hospitals.


One major difference between NHS and private ultrasound is the cost. A diagnostic ultrasound scan via the NHS is free of charge, while a private scan will cost you. Depending on the type of scan, the fees can differ – abdominal scans may cost between £100 and £500, while prices for more complex tests can go up to £600 or more.

In addition to this upfront fee, there are also additional costs associated with having an ultrasound scan done privately. Your doctor will usually order blood tests to be done first before a scan, as well as review any previous medical records that may be relevant. These services add another price tag. Some clinics will bundle all of these fees together into one payment but this may end up costing you more than if you arranged them separately in advance. Ultimately it comes down to your personal circumstances – ordering several tests from one provider at once might be convenient but it could end up being more expensive in the long run.


When it comes to availability, private ultrasound scans are commonly more convenient than NHS scans. With private ultrasound, you typically have the option to book an appointment at a time that is more convenient for you. Many clinics also specialize in one or more types of scan (such as pregnancy or musculoskeletal) and some will even be available outside of regular business hours or at weekends.

On the other hand, NHS appointments may not be easy to come by due to any number of staffing issues, or because your individual clinic does not provide certain types of scan. It’s worth being aware that waits can vary significantly between Trusts and geographical areas—so if your wait time is longer than expected, you may want to consider a private ultrasound scan as a viable alternative.

With private ultrasound scans, results are generally acquired much faster as well over NHS clinics; often delivered within just a few days compared with weeks on NHS appointments depending on appointment availability:

  • Private ultrasound scans offer more convenience with appointment times.
  • NHS appointments may be difficult to come by due to staffing issues or lack of certain types of scan.
  • Waits can vary significantly between Trusts and geographical areas.
  • Private ultrasound results are often delivered within a few days.
  • NHS appointments can take weeks depending on availability.

Quality of Service

The primary difference between the quality of service of an NHS ultrasound and a private ultrasound is that private scans focus on providing you with the best care available, providing free additional images if required and paying extra attention to your medical requirements. Private medical clinics are not constrained by budgets, or time restrictions – so you can be sure that your scan will be accurate and detailed.

Private ultrasound machines tend to be higher-end systems, with updated features than those seen with NHS scans. Private ultrasounds have higher-resolution image quality allowing for greater accuracy in reading results from a scan. This can mean longer appointment times as there is more images to review, but for expecting families this extra time can make a big difference in terms of understanding baby’s development.

At a private clinic, the sonographer will take more time to explain their findings and answer any questions you may have related to the results – this is especially important in complex situations. At an NHS clinic typically only minimal information will be provided due to the shorter appointment length. However, at a private clinic it is expected that they will provide clear explanations and detailed results in addition to offering further advice if needed when it comes to interpreting your findings from the scan – something which isn’t done at NHS clinics due to time constraints.


To sum up, the main difference in cost between NHS and private ultrasound is due to patient need. Those who require urgent treatment or convenience may choose to pay for a private ultrasound scan. On the other hand, those who are willing to wait – and are within an NHS catchment area – will likely receive same quality of service at no cost.

The healthcare provider chosen also has an effect on cost. Private providers often have additional overhead costs associated with their services; these include time/staff costs, more advanced equipment and convenience factors.

Ultimately, both types of scans are safe and effective. Whether you opt for NHS-funded or a private contractor’s ultrasound scan, you can feel secure that you will receive quality medical care and a personalized experience with your chosen healthcare professional. Ultimately, it’s up to you – your needs and budget – to decide which option is best for you.