Practices continue to drop private work in face of growing workload

Just over one in five GP practices have stopped providing non-NHS services in the past 12 months because of rising workload, a survey suggests.

The survey of 316 GP partners and practice managers across the UK by GPonline’s sister site Medeconomics found that practices had stopped providing services including travel vaccinations, power of attorney assessments or completing forms to support passport applications.

Other practices have stopped providing letters certifying patients fit for certain activities, private blood tests and driving medicals.

The figures suggest an ongoing trend of practices cutting back on fee-paying work in a bid to control workload. The same survey carried out a year ago found that one in three GP practices had stopped providing some non-NHS services in the previous year.

Important source of income

Some 55% of respondents in this year’s survey said that private and professional fees were an important part of their practice’s income. GP leaders have previously said that private fees could make up around 5% of practices’ income.

A third of practices said that income from private work had fallen in the past 12 months, compared with just 12% who said it had increased.

A significant number of those whose fees for private work had fallen said this was in part due to a fall in the number of insurance report requests the practice had received.

Some 29% of GP partners and practice managers said they planned to take active steps to increase the amount of income their practice earned from private fees in the coming 12 months. Most planned to increase the fees they charge, while others said they were planning to set up new services or would advertise their private services.

Northumberland LMC medical secretary Dr Jane Lothian told GPonline she was not surprised that GP practices were dropping private work, even though some had traditionally brought in a significant part of their income in this way.

Read more: GP partners in decline

'I assume it’ll be two things - a drop in numbers of partners, who may have done that work in additional time, and the fact that practices are stretched,' she said.

'There is a lack of clarity on where these jobs sit when people are salaried, and whether salaried GPs should take part in that at all.

'Also practices may be wanting to maximise income, but these services are often things only GPs can do – and when they are stretched to provide the standard services they may not have a choice.'

Practices being forced to drop these services could be inconvenient for patients, Dr Lothian added. She said: 'Often patients don’t realise there is no obligation on practices to do this work.'

Medeconomics GP Fees Database
The annual survey of private fees is used to update the Medeconomics GP Fees Database, which helps practices benchmark the rates they charge for private work.
Full details here.

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