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Differences Between the Public and Private Sector

Written on 8/2/16

After you have completed your degree in nursing, you have the option of choosing a career in the public or the private sector. Whilst the basic role of a nurse does not change much across these sectors, there are differences that may influence your eventual decision.

Within the public sector, the main course of action open to you is joining the NHS. Within the NHS, there are three main options available:

  • Primary care nurses work with patients at the onset of a health problem
  • Secondary (or emergency) care nurses handle patients with acute or specialist problems who have been referred from a primary doctor
  • Tertiary care nurses are specialised caregivers who work in areas such as cardiac surgery

Another facet of public sector healthcare is the Armed Forces of the UK, who recruit nurses to provide care across the UK and many overseas bases.

In the private sector, independent healthcare organisations provide a large amount of long-term care within the UK, often helping to reduce strain on the NHS and reduce waiting lists. Most private sector care in the UK is under for profit organisations and charities; however other opportunities could include schools and universities, or organisations that require in-house medical professionals.

When deciding which sector you wish to work in, there are a few factors to take into account:

  • Salary - in the private sector there is no set requirement for pay other than minimum wage, meaning that you have to negotiate the best deal.
    • On average, statistics show that the public sector tend to pay more; around £5k per annum
    • NHS and other public sector areas also have more have straightforward set pay scales:
  • Career prospects - the NHS have a lot of room for career progression, and therefore could be a better option for someone wishing to move further down the line. The private sector is often more limited in what it can offer for aspirations.
  • Annual leave etc. - these sorts of terms and conditions will be clearly set out within the NHS and Armed Forces, whereas they may be slightly more subject to change in the private sector. The NHS employers website lists the following figures for full time employment annual leave, depending on your length of service:

Part time workers will have their holiday calculated on a pro rata basis.

Every employer in the private sector will be different, and it is important to read the fine print before deciding to join a company. The minimum of 28 days statutory will be given, however any extras are down to the specific employer.

There will often be more than one factor that influences your decision as to what sector you decide you belong in and as you progress through your career you may find that you change your mind or develop new ideas. There is no set rule saying that it is not possible to change between sectors, and there will always be options to change your career path or change sectors.