By Robin Stride
Consultants are gearing up to increase their private practice commitment as independent sector analysts predict a record year for the sector.
As many as 43% of specialists responding to a joint Independent Practitioner Today/Medical Defence Union (MDU) survey signalled they were likely to grow their business over the next five years.
Another 43% expected their private practice workload to remain the same in the foreseeable future but 14% said they were unsure about what would happen.
Consultants’ numbers in the sector will be boosted by a tranche of doctors who are currently planning to take up private work.
Half of the doctors responding to the survey, who currently only worked in the NHS, thought they were more likely to be in private practice over the next five years, while 28% were unclear.
Asked if they still did, or intended to, work for the NHS alongside their private commitment, 77% said yes, 9.6% said no, 8% were unsure and 5% said they were not working for the health service.
For three-quarters of consultants their biggest motivation to work privately was financial. 43.6% cited greater job satisfaction, 36% considered it gave them a better work-life balance, while for 34% it represented a new challenge and experience.
Marketing yourself or your practice was, perhaps unsurprisingly, seen as the biggest challenge to becoming a private practitioner (58%).
This was followed by impact on work-life balance (47%), arranging indemnity for themselves or employees (44%), and managing patient data (41%). Patient satisfaction was an issue for 8%.
Over six in ten placed running a business as their biggest challenge faced or anticipated when in private practice. Complying with tax requirements came in next (54%), billing patients (47%) and protecting patient data (35%).
Nearly a third mentioned their other concerns as navigating the Care Quailty Commission (CQC) regulating requirements and dealing with patient complaints and patient satisfaction issues.
Consultants expressed a huge appetite for learning more to help them with their businesses.
Financial planning, including tax, National Insurance and PAYE came out top (57.2%), with support for marketing and establishing a private practice while maintaining existing NHS commitments were both wanted by 36% of respondents.
These were closely followed by complying with data protection obligations (34%), professional/corporate indemnity (33.2%), complying with CQC requirements (30%), and ‘how to establish a private practice and ensure it stands out from the crowd’ (28%).
MDU medical legal adviser Mr Jerard Ross commented: ‘It has been a record year in the specialty areas you might expect – demand appears to be there. I was slightly surprised more doctors didn’t expect their business to grow, but that might be a lifestyle choice.
‘Clearly finance is a strong motivator for doctors to do private practice, but job satisfaction is another. The survey shows they have a desire to put their own stamp on the work and to service patients’ needs.’
Mr Ross, a former neurosurgeon, was surprised to see that arranging indemnity for consultants or their employees had surfaced as an issue.
He told Independent Practitioner Today: ‘There’s a need for us to make positive changes to members’ lives and private practice is not about just providing indemnity.
‘It is about making sure we can help independent practitioners expand their business, run their business well and to make appropriate financial plans.
‘The marketing side is an area we are able to provide advice on and we are rejigging a private practice course and hope to say more soon. This will cover a lot of the issues raised in the survey.’