Doctors quitting private practice

By Robin Stride

The medical director of a leading private hospital has warned of a ‘huge exodus’ of specialists from the independent sector in the wake of Covid-19.

Mr Satya Bhattacharya

Consultant surgeon Mr Satya Bhattacharya, of The London Clinic, said although large numbers of doctors had suffered heavy falls in their profits during the pandemic, he doubted money was the key factor.

He told this year’s Private Health­care Summit that large numbers of consultants saw a significant drop in their income in the early part of 2020 and many had to lay off or furlough their employees. 

‘But I don’t think that’s the main reason why people are leaving the profession,’ he said. 

‘You’re seeing a huge exodus of consultants from the NHS and private sector and I think Covid has been very draining on people, their energy and morale, and a lot of people have just said “That’s it, I’ve had enough, I’m going”. I’m seeing that a lot among colleagues.’

Mr Bhattacharya, who stepped down from the NHS last October, also voiced concern at Covid’s big impact on hospital staff. 

Speaking to over 300 attendees of the digital LaingBuisson event, he said: ‘We are seeing fewer colleagues wanting to come and work in the UK, so how we recruit and fill vacancies is going to be a challenge for our HR.’

And he warned that fixing the staff recruitment problem would be a challenge for the whole sector and the whole country.

‘The scale of the problem will probably become more apparent over the coming months because I think a lot of nurses and doctors are taking stock at the moment and wondering what to do next.’

Workforce problems

According to David Hare, head of the Independent Health­care Prov­iders Network, work­force matters have been ‘the biggest issue by a long way’ over the last three months.

There were worries about stability, concerns about getting people in, and domestic supply – and there were no easy answers.  

‘It’s something we are going to have to try and tackle in partnership with the public sector and we are going to have to throw the kitchen sink at it because it is an existential challenge to all of us working in healthcare.’

Jenni Wilson, Nuffield Health hospitals commercial director, warned the meeting that staff availability would be the biggest limiting factor in private healthcare’s ability to meet demand.

Increasing admin costs

Dr Mark Vanderpump

Dr Mark Vanderpump, chairman of the London Consultants’ Assoc­iation (LCA), later added his views on why consultants were leaving.

He said: ‘The LCA recognises that younger consultants require considerable support to build a private practice in the current private health market. There are many issues that result in disenchantment with increasing administration and costs of setting up a practice, which can appear prohibitive.  

‘The major limiting factor is the behaviour of the private medical insurers towards consultants, including the low consultation fees that have to be accepted by new consultants to enjoy the privilege to be listed as a provider.’

The MDU said it was too early to say what the long-term trend would look like, but it had not seen a significant movement of doctors from private practice.  

‘During 2020, although we saw a large number of consultant members doing less private work due to pandemic changes, many are now increasing their levels of work again. This includes doctors who did little or no private work during the crisis period last year.’