Covid chaos offers chance to revamp independent practice

Consultants must now either help evolve the changes they see in private practice, brought about by Covid-19, or look for other ways to supplement their income. Prof Gordon Wishart and Philip Housden analyse some interesting possibilities for the ‘stayers’.

Against a background trend of increasing costs to run a private practice, and with more resources required to comply with clinical and information governance, many consultants are considering whether it is worth restarting.

Their decision may be influenced by the recent renewed rise in Coronavirus cases and the uncertainty about how long non-Covid clinical services will continue to be disrupted.

For those who perform surgery or other invasive procedures for private patients, the requirement for additional hygiene measures and PPE will result in decreased productivity that will challenge the previous level of reimbursement per unit of time in the independent sector. 

Massive backlog

With a massive backlog of NHS patients requiring diagnosis and treatment during the next few years, many consultants with a busy NHS trust post may find they have less time to devote to private practice as they struggle to balance other commitments with research, service development and their family.

For many more newly appointed consultants, and those with smaller practices, these additional restrictions and safety measures will perhaps be a step too far and they choose to discontinue their private practice. 

Many will be tempted by other options – including medico-legal work or consultancy/advisory roles in pharmaceutical and healthcare companies or the regulatory healthcare bodies – to augment their earnings without the significant additional costs of private practice management. 

Viable career move

This trend could lead to offers of alternative part-time contracts to work for independent sector hospital groups. We believe these could become a viable career move in England for the first time, and not just for a very few in central London. 

This may appeal to more senior consultants, many of whom already take early retirement to access their pension then return to a reduced-hours NHS contract, and also to junior consultants at the beginning of their careers.

Increased opportunity from NHS contracts