A quarter of GPs now have private medical insurance, citing concerns around waiting lists and the level of treatment available on the NHS, a Pulse survey has revealed.
The survey of 860 GPs found that 21% have their own personal private medical insurance, while 4% have it funded through employers. A further 15% said they were considering taking it out.
Respondents said that they have been compelled to take private insurance because ‘NHS waiting lists are too long’, and that they were unable to take sick days due to the intensity of the work in general practice.
Data from the Private Healthcare Information Network revealed that there were a record number of private in-patient/day-case admissions in 2022 – 820,000. This compares with 757,000 in 2021 and 779,000 in 2019.
One GP who chose to remain anonymous told Pulse: ‘I have and will continue to seek a private opinion for myself or my family where NHS wait lists are too long,’.
‘Locally, routine mental health appointments are 18 months (if a patient isn’t rejected completely as not being suitable), ADHD/ASD assessments up to four years, cardiology and dermatology appointments are one year, most others several months… I am fortunate in being able to afford private care, but I am conscious that many cannot.’
They added: ‘The NHS is on its knees. The waits aren’t the fault of the hospital doctors – understaffing is a common theme in primary and secondary care.’
North East London GP partner Dr Shahid Dadabhoy said: ‘I decided to access the private sector and get insured, largely because I am not bulletproof and neither is my family. As a GP, I can’t be offline through sickness or waiting for investigations on the NHS. I need to get patched up to walking-wounded level and paradoxically back to the ever-thinning NHS frontline as soon as possible.’
Another GP who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘My son had glue ear and needed grommets and adenoids. The NHS wait was three months for a first [appointment], then another nine months for the surgery. A whole year for a two-year old not to hear, not to learn to speak, and to miss out on all the social development that goes along with being able to hear.
‘I paid privately for the day-case surgery which was nearly £5,000 – that was a real eye-opener that my self-insurance pot would never keep up with healthcare costs and I took out health insurance the next day. Sadly, I no longer trust the NHS to diagnose or treat cancer in a timely manner and I consider private health insurance to be an essential expense.’
Another anonymous GP said: ‘I feel a significant responsibility to make sure that I am available to support my practice staff and patients, this means that I need to make sure that delays in obtaining my own secondary care input need to be avoided so that I do not go off sick. It is not easy to replace what I do as a partner since a locum will only do consultations and not help to run the practice or supervise colleagues.
‘Paying for private insurance gives me (and the practice) this additional resilience and means that I can be seen at short notice by consultants outside practice hours which avoids disrupting practice staffing which can be rather tight at times. I would not use private healthcare for any problem that required a multi-disciplinary team approach such as suspected cancer since these are not as well developed as NHS service and there is a risk that this could impact on the quality of care that I would receive.’
Pulse’s survey was open between 9 and 15 June 2023, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. A total of 860 GPs from across the UK responded to this particular question. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for a £250 John Lewis voucher as an incentive to complete the survey. The survey is unweighted, and we do not claim this to be scientific – only a snapshot of the GP population.
This article first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.