There is no doubt it is becoming more difficult to obtain a NHS GP appointment when required: in Essex it is not uncommon to find people offered an appointment 2 or even 3 weeks hence, often with a locum doctor with whom they have no previous knowledge. This leads to dissatisfaction for both acute problems, when prompt attention is needed and for long standing problems when a continuing relationship with the doctor is very beneficial. Many NHS GP practices are struggling to recruit doctors and new housing estates are springing up throughout the county with no primary medical care provision in place.

On this background, we are seeing a growth in the number of GPs choosing to work privately and a substantial growth in the number of patients seeking such care. So what might be the advantages and the pitfalls of such a choice? Well first of all there is a cost and there is no means within the UK of transferring the money each of us pays for the NHS into an alternative health care system. Every appointment has a price, which will vary according to the appointment length and the practice you choose. In addition, any tests would be charged and all prescriptions written are “private prescriptions”. This means at the pharmacy, you will pay the cost of the drug plus the pharmacy charge, not an NHS prescription charge. Even if you are entitles to free NHS prescriptions, your private prescription medication must be paid for. If you have an on going medical problem this can be a significant on going cost. Your private GP does not have any access to your NHS notes: if you are able to remember and give a clear account of your medical history to date that is rarely a problem but if your history is complex then your private GP may ask you to obtain a copy of your NHS records, at your won expense.

Goodness, you may be wondering why anyone would pursue this at all! On the plus side, most private GP clinics will offer you an appointment on the day you request with same day appointments usually available. Appointments are longer, with a minimum of 15 minutes offered and locums are not used so you have a very good chance of seeing the same doctor each time you attend. Private GPs are not constrained by NHS funding restrictions: tests can be arranged quickly and appropriately and a high standard of care practised. A full range of travel medical services, private medicals and health screening can be available in a way NHS GPs are not able to provide within their general medical services contracts. As one of my own patients recently said ” The NHS has begun to feel like a can’t do service, whereas you offer a can do service”.

Most patients in my own private practice do not use our service exclusively for all their medical care but as a service to run alongside their NHS provision, available when the NHS GP service is not able to meet their needs in terms of time, availability or quality.

The British NHS is unique in the world in terms of being free at the point of delivery and we should all appreciate that great blessing: but it cannot deliver everything we need and want to order all the time and everywhere. If you feel a private GP may be right for you, now or in the future give us a call and we can advise you.


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