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The rules surrounding private healthcare services delivered by GPs have now changed, amid fears of a ‘blurring’ of the lines between NHS and non-NHS work.

As part of widespread changes to the GP contract, NHS England has decided to ban the advertising and hosting of private GP services from April 1.

The 2019/20 GP contract states: “To safeguard the model of comprehensive NHS primary medical care, from 2019 it will no longer be possible for any GP provider either directly or via proxy to advertise or host private paid-for GP services that fall within the scope of NHS funded primary medical services.

“NHS England will consult in 2019 on expanding this ban on private GP services to other providers of mainly NHS services.”

What the changes mean for GPs

It’s important to recognise that this doesn’t bar GPs from all non-NHS work. Indeed, a full range of services – from medical reports for insurance to physiotherapy and signing passports will still be a natural part of life for a great many GPs.

However, this stops practices from being able to charge patients for services that are free under the NHS or to get quicker access to their GP. It’s about making it completely clear as to what is available under the NHS and what isn’t – and therefore incurs a charge to the user.

There has been a rise in private treatments offered by GPs in recent years. The Guardian reported that demand for this has been growing after cuts and cost savings instigated by the NHS.

Private providers have offered GP access

Online private GP services have sprung up to offer people out of hours access to a doctor over the internet.

These services are reportedly particularly popular among millennials, with many young people preferring to pay than wait for an appointment. Practice Business noted that three quarters of patients in a network of private clinics were aged between 20 and 39.

It quoted Dan Faber, founder, DocTap, as saying: “Patients are out of patience and they are no longer prepared to wait for or travel to an NHS appointment. They want to see a doctor on their terms and they want to choose the doctor that they want to see. It is clear that the existing NHS GP model is outdated and is unable to service the new millennial generation who want convenience.”

Confidence in the GP service

The NHS England and the British Medical Association in a bid to ‘maintain patient confidence’ in the GP service and set a clear distinction between what is and isn’t allowed.

Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: “While the BMA represents the breadth of the medical profession, including private practitioners, we have been concerned at the increasing blurring in recent years between NHS and private GP services offered to patients, particularly with the opportunities digital technology is providing.

“This change will provide clarity for patients about what treatment is available on the NHS and what they have the option of paying for privately.

“Both NHS England and the BMA want clarity for patients about what are free NHS GP services and what are not, and we are determined to maintain patient confidence in the integrity of general practice.”

GPs need indemnity for all of their work

The new rules offer a welcome clarification on the dividing lines between NHS and private work. This debate also goes to emphasise that there is much non-NHS work that naturally falls at the feet of GPs – work that will continue unchanged.

This is important to bear in mind when it comes to the new state-backed indemnity scheme, which only covers cases of clinical negligence that come from NHS activities within the scope of the scheme. That means that any non-NHS work is not covered by the Government’s scheme and this is one of the many reasons why GPs will still need to maintain their membership with an MDO.