NHS England to investigate 'questionable' private GP services

The NHS England chief executive has described as 'questionable' private consultation services being operated by GPs in parallel to their NHS services.

Dorset Private GP is advertising private appointments for up to 40 minutes for fees up to £140 and health checks for up to £450 at the Poole Road Medical Centre.

Speaking at NHS England’s board meeting on Thursday, chief executive Simon Stevens said the scheme looked ‘questionable’ and would be investigated.

NHS contracted GPs are not entitled to offer private consultations to their own registered patients. But Dorset Private GP’s practice manager told GPonline the service was within the rules and was not doing anything different from other similar services across the country.

Private GP service

The private GP service is advertised as providing ‘the unhurried, thorough, personal care we believe is best for patients’.

‘All our doctors are highly experienced practising local NHS GPs and we provide all the services you’d expect from a GP consultation, plus some you wouldn’t,' its website says.

Mr Stevens told NHS England bosses: ‘There have been reports this week of a practice in Dorset proposing to start offering private charged-for appointments alongside its NHS appointments.’

‘I think we want to be absolutely clear that it is not permissible for a practice to charge its own registered patients and even the circumstances being described here look questionable. So we are going to take a very, very hard look at NHS England at anybody proposing that kind of approach.’

Practice manager of Dorset Private GP Steve Middleton said the service was no different from that operated across the country where GPs provide private services outside of their NHS commitments and that patients registered with Poole Road Medical Centre would not be offered the service, in line with NHS England rules.

‘We have no intention of seeing our NHS patients as private patients or charging a fee to our registered patients,' he told GPonline.

NHS general practice

He said NHS England had not contacted the practice about its concerns. ‘Without knowing the context of what [Mr Stevens] feels is problematic, it would be very difficult to comment,' he said.

‘The service we provide is very similar to that operated in many parts of the country, where a GP outside of NHS time and NHS commitments sees fee-paying patients.’

He added: ‘We have spoken to the CCG. They wanted to clarify how we are running the service. But we have made them aware there is no service offer, and we stated all along, there is no service offer to patients of Poole Road Medical Centre, and this is a separate service for other patients who wish to be seen on a private setting.’

One of the GPs behind the service, Dr Tim Alder of Poole Road Medical Centre told the Bournemouth Echo: 'The government is not trying to save general practice and now it is on the brink of collapse. We have to try something different now to make ourselves stronger in anticipation NHS primary care will be even worse.

He added: 'Five years ago, there would be far more people saying "how dare you do this to the NHS" and "you’re causing it to fall apart by doing this" rather than the other way around but now most people understand why and are quite interested. They see it as an option for the future for themselves.'

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told The Guardian: 'This looks like the thin end of the wedge. There are really worrying signs that a two-tier NHS is emerging under Theresa May’s leadership.

'The relentless underfunding of healthcare has meant that practitioners in many parts of the country are struggling to keep the service going, but the news that private patients are being offered the chance to skip the queue comes as a real shock.'

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