Patients abandon NHS for private GPs

With satisfaction amongst patients with the NHS the lowest it’s been for forty years, patients are increasingly giving up the wait to see their local doctor and paying hundreds of pounds for an appointment with a private GP instead.

Not only is it quicker and easier to see a private GP, but appointments can also last much longer, with the growing number of private GPs now offering thirty minute and half-hour consultations. The fees are considerable, with patients paying upwards of £300 for a single half-hour slot, but of those who can afford it many are now choosing to pay up rather than wait weeks for ten minutes with their overworked NHS doctor.

The British Medical Association blames the government for the NHS’s falling standards and overall patient dissatisfaction, with 9 million people now facing long waits to see a doctor. The Covid-19 ‘pandemic’, shortage of staff, and lack of funding have all contributed to a public health service that over half of patients now consider unfit for service.

It is a sensitive issue in whom we place our trust when it comes to our health, and cultural values which encourage support for the NHS as an idea conflict with the public’s actual experience at the business end of nationalised healthcare.

The fact that the NHS has been known to work to a satisfying level in the past implies that the current situation is likely to be due to political mismanagement and other measurable factors, rather than an existential problem with the idea of healthcare that’s free at the point of service. That said, the fact is that more and more patients are now choosing to pay to see a doctor than wait to see one for free.

The private healthcare market benefits from the existing NHS infrastructure, as private GPs can refer patients to secondary NHS services. In some sense private GPs are taking a level of strain off NHS practices. However, as many medics moonlight for private practices while continuing to work for the NHS, it is difficult to determine to what extent NHS personnel are relieved by the burgeoning private sector taking up the slack.

The NHS and private sector share a number of common concerns, beyond the fact that both claim to serve the wellbeing of their patients. A number of London hospitals have been incapacitated today by a cyber-attack (in the midst of growing concerns about Russian sabotage across the West). These were NHS hospitals, but what unites all those affected is their partnership with a private sector health provider, Synnovis, an outsourced provider of lab services to NHS trusts across south-east London. This implies a complex ecosystem of healthcare provision, indicative of our increasingly synergistic yet risk-prone world.

As to whether the NHS will ever become usable for the average citizen again is hard to speculate. The likelihood of a Labour landslide at the next election suggests that there will be stronger emphasis placed upon public services, possibly with increased funding for the NHS. However, money does not always translate into quality. Regardless, the growing popularity of private GP practices is a trend that is unlikely to reverse in the short to medium term. The best outcome for this is that private GP practices will continue to co-exist with NHS practices, offering patients choice, and driving up the quality of service. If yet more private GP practices come into existence and compete with one another, it is also possible that a greater range of services will become available, with prices gradually dropping as providers compete with one another for patients.

In the meantime, for those who cannot afford it, the wait goes on.

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