By Robin Stride
Accountants are warning private consultants they could be missing out on thousands of pounds because they have not regularly reviewed their fees.
They say many independent practitioners in London would be surprised to see how far they have fallen behind what others in their specialty now charge self-pay patients elsewhere.
Martin Murray, a partner with Sandison Easson chartered accountants, told Independent Practitioner Today: ‘When I go to Glasgow, I look at it as a benchmark and see consultants charging £200-£220 for an initial consultation and £160-£180 for follow-ups.
‘But in some cases in London, where running costs are higher, they can be charging lower – particularly for follow-up consultations.’
Mr Murray said there was ‘a general reluctance’ among consultants to increase their consultation charges and most specialists were not looking at their fees every 12 months.
They were mostly reviewing them every two or three years, but they should do it annually. Failure to review could amount to missing out on ‘several thousand pounds a year’.
Turning to fees for private medically insured patients, he recognised new consultants faced insurers’ restrictions on what they could charge, while existing consultants might be ‘fee assured’.
But with many consultants charging more for initial consultations, he believed there was still scope to look at follow-up consultation charges to see if these could be increased while still complying with medical insurers.
Mr Murray told consultants and GPs at the BMA’s private practice conference 2018 that one specialist in England doubted there even was any private practice in Glasgow. ‘I said: “Yes there is – and they are charging more than you. Put your fees up!”’
Doctors were shocked to hear him quoting cases of cosmetic nurses grossing as much as £300,000-£400,000 a year in their highly marketed businesses.
He said the many NHS GPs seeing cosmetic work as their first foray into private practice needed to change their mindset because they were up against ‘serious competitors’.
The ‘review your fees’ message follows our ‘fee publication fiasco’ front-page report in March spelling out the practicality problems of the Competition and Markets Authority’s demands for consultants to send patients written information about charges before seeing them.
Providers are required to ensure their consultants’ fee information is always given by a letter from the specialist.
At the meeting, BMA private practice committee chairman Mr Derek Machin threw his weight behind the Federation of Independent Practitioner Organisations, which has warned the fees clarity drive will bring increased complexity for consultants and patients.
He called the fee letter requirement ‘completely mad’ and claimed it would ‘whither on the vine’. He said it sounded simple but was complex and unmanageable.
Later he told Independent Practitioner Today: ‘It’s a magnificent shambles. I don’t think anybody is doing it. The CMA’s own survey indicated fees weren’t a big issue to patients. This was something which was never going to work.
‘The CMA’s own survey indicated fees weren’t a big issue to patients. It’s very rare to get somebody whose fees are severely out of kilter with others.’