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Why I work as a private GP

This week, Dr Ruth Chapman talks to a doctor who turned to private work because of the scarcity of GP jobs in London, before returning to the NHS

This week, Dr Ruth Chapman talks to a doctor who turned to private work because of the scarcity of GP jobs in London, before returning to the NHS

Why it's on my job menu

As a salaried GP you are an employee and so have less influence over your working conditions. I wondered if working in the private sector would be any different. As an idealistic medical student I would never have considered private work, but the climate in the NHS has changed.

As a salaried GP it can feel like you are the employee of a small private company anyway. The doctor I spoke to did feel that he had more autonomy as a private GP. He said that he developed a good working relationship with local consultants and there were many educational opportunities at private hospitals.

Skill/traits needed

As a private family doctor you may also need to be multiskilled as there is unlikely to be a practice nurse, health visitor or midwife to hand. There are few visits as they are expensive, but your phone may ring more.

Accessibility is important. Your patients may phone you on your mobile at any time and it seems that this constant tie to work was the reason that my colleague returned to the NHS. In the private sector you are not lumbered with chasing QOF points but you do need be on top of your finances.

Necessary training

As a fully qualified GP you are set to go. You come across the same acute and chronic pathologies but there are times when patients who are seriously ill come to you for a quick referral. Patient referrals and care are not hampered by delays commonly experienced in the NHS – this can be both satisfying and educational. This doctor saw about 15 patients a day and each consultation lasted 20 to 25 minutes.

Avoid if...

You find it difficult to switch off from work. A big down side is that you can be on-call 24/7, although there are some private on-call co-ops. My colleague felt that he worked harder than in the NHS. He found patient pressure to prescribe new drugs and controversial drugs such as benzodiazepines difficult.

He described it as an ‘ethical minefield' at times. The work was financially and patient driven, and lacked the usual PCT pressures. The work can be lonely as you do not work within a team. This doctor also highlighted the fact that he mainly saw wealthier patients, limiting the diversity of the work.

Pay rate

This GP worked for another private doctor in a London family practice. He told me that he negotiated his salary and that it was essentially similar to a salaried GP in the NHS. Other private sessional work seems to pay similar rates or slightly less compared to NHS locums. BUPA pays an average of £61.55 an hour for consultations and health assessments.

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Job satisfaction Job satisfaction


For me there is no doubt that I would have to wrestle with my conscience if I worked mainly in the private sector. It would almost seem as if I was being unfaithful to the dear old NHS.

This sensibility may well become a luxury in the future, however, for the large numbers of frustrated non-partner GPs who are likely to be offered work by private concerns such as supermarkets and chemists.

Remember this too – unless you are starting up a private GP company from scratch yourself, you are still only an employee in the private sector.

Dr Ruth Chapman

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