The chief executive of NHS England has questioned the practice of private consultation services being operated by GPs alongside their usual NHS duties.
Dorset Private GP has courted controversy by advertising private appointments, attracting fees of £140.
Simon Stevens, though, believes that the scheme is questionable, and pledged an investigation on the matter.
GPs that have decided to be contracted to the NHS are not permitted to offer private consultations to register patients.
But Dorset Private GP’s practice manager firmly defended the approach, asserting that it does not breach NHS rules.
The private GP service is advertised as providing “the unhurried, thorough, personal care we believe is best for patients. All our doctors are highly experienced practising local NHS GPs and we provide all the services you’d expect from a GP consultation, plus some you wouldn’t,” according to the website of the practice.
But Stevens spoke before NHS England managers and indicated his belief that the Dorset practice was flaunting normal NHS procedures.
“There have been reports this week of a practice in Dorset proposing to start offering private charged-for appointments alongside its NHS appointments.”
Stevens went on to outline the position of NHS England on this matter.
“I think we want to be absolutely clear that it is not permissible for a practice to charge its own registered patients and even the circumstances being described here look questionable. So we are going to take a very, very hard look at NHS England at anybody proposing that kind of approach.”
Yet the doctors involved in the new scheme in Dorset have robustly defended the ethos behind it.
Dr Tim Alder of Poole Road Medical Centre told the Bournemouth Echo that the new approach to general practice is simply necessary in the existing financial climate.
“The government is not trying to save general practice and now it is on the brink of collapse. We have to try something different now to make ourselves stronger in anticipation NHS primary care will be even worse. Five years ago, there would be far more people saying “how dare you do this to the NHS” and “you’re causing it to fall apart by doing this” rather than the other way around but now most people understand why and are quite interested. They see it as an option for the future for themselves.”
And Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth is concerned that the Dorset issue is indicative of a wider malaise and will lead to further copycat schemes.
“This looks like the thin end of the wedge. There are really worrying signs that a two-tier NHS is emerging under Theresa May’s leadership. The relentless underfunding of healthcare has meant that practitioners in many parts of the country are struggling to keep the service going, but the news that private patients are being offered the chance to skip the queue comes as a real shock.”