Private group doing what the NHS used to do

An NHS provider is creating a new market for self-pay patients using salaried doctors. Leslie Berry reports.

Change is in the air for Practice Plus Group – one of the UK’s largest providers of NHS services – under a drive to increase self-pay activity, with a new ‘middle market’ offer to meet the demand resulting from record NHS waiting lists.

Practice Plus Group’s Barlborough Hospital, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire

The business has recognised that around half of its inquiries are now from people who have never considered private healthcare before and it is intent on ‘removing the complexity, hidden costs and exclusivity typical of the traditional private sector’.

Instead, it says it is offering easy, rapid access to high-quality surgery – at a typically 20-30% lower price point – for those who cannot afford to wait. 

A key factor in being able to pass savings onto patients is the group’s employed model, where doctors are employed full-time or part-time, with 150 doctors across Practice Plus Group’s ten hospitals and surgical centres working in this way.

It says that by employing its doctors on a salaried basis it can use theatre time very efficiently. Rather than an NHS doctor seeing a handful of patients privately each week, and all the associated costs of running that theatre list, it has a high throughput. 

Civica Medical Billing

Many benefits

Dr Marcelle Michail, medical director

Medical director Dr Marcelle Michail, explains: ‘For our doctors, being salaried has a number of benefits. 

‘We are fully committed to supporting their further professional development in the shape of paid study leave, budget for training and courses, and providing the resources they need. 

‘We also support with appraisals and revalidation and, of course, offer benefits such as sick leave, annual leave, pension, a far greater work-life balance than in the NHS and faster pay progression. 

‘But more than that, we run consultant-delivered services providing outstanding care and excellent patient outcomes. 

‘We are innovators and our doctors can quickly and easily implement ideas to affect change in their service without layers of red tape and bureaucracy.’

Attracting consultants

Mr Christopher Waller

Mr Chris Waller is consultant orthopaedic surgeon and medical director at Practice Plus Group Hospital, Southampton. He says: ‘We’re increasingly attracting doctors who are in the prime of their careers and are drawn to our ability to do what the NHS was original set up to do – to do the right operation for the right patient at the right time. 

‘Doctors coming to join us observe what we do and comment that this is what they’d imagined the NHS to be. 

‘For me personally, I have found a place where I can effect change and implement best practice; where instead of multiple layers of managerial sign-off, if I have an idea I can knock on a door to speak to colleagues about it and I’ll be listened to. 

‘What I’m particularly proud of is that although a lot of our work is high volume, low complexity, within that there are people with challenging circumstances who we can be nimble enough to help; someone with learning disabilities who needs extra time, or a cancer patient fitting in dental treatment around chemotherapy. 

‘We have the ability to just slow things down and meet their needs. I’ve also never had to cancel a patient’s operation because there wasn’t a bed. We see as many patients as we can with the resources we have, safely and to a high quality.’

No practising privileges

The reception area at Practice Plus Group’s Emersons Green Hospital, just outside Bristol

While Practice Plus Group does not offer practising privileges, it has around 130 doctors who supplement existing substantive or private commitments by working additional ad hoc hours on a self-employed or personal service company basis.

Consultant specialties include orthopaedic surgeons, ophthalmologists, urologists, gynaecologists, ENT specialists, dentists, general surgeons and radiologists. The specialties currently in high demand are ophthalmologists, endoscopists and anaesthetists.  

Practice Plus Group rebranded from Care UK in 2020 and is managed by Bridgepoint private equity firm. 

Private healthcare now represents 15% of Practice Plus Group’s secondary care revenues, but it expects to see this grow in the next 12 months with a bolder marketing approach.

Its hospitals and surgical centres are mostly concentrated in the South-east: from Ilford, London, to Portsmouth, Southampton, Bristol, Shepton Mallet in Somer­set, Devizes in Wiltshire, and Plymouth. 

There is a hospital in Barl­borough near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, an ophthalmology centre in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, and a new site set to be announced in the coming months. 

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