Private medical practice exists in parallel with the NHS. It enables surgeons to practice more independently of NHS targets and allows more direct one-to-one care for patients.
Patients receiving private healthcare fall into two groups: those with private medical insurance policies (about 80% of patients) and those who self-fund (about 20%).
Of those doctors undertaking private practice, the large majority also work in NHS consultant posts, doing their private work outside of and on top of their NHS commitments. A small proportion of doctors work in full-time private practice only.
The amount of private practice varies considerably by specialty and across the country with the greatest density being around London and south east.
Entering private practice
In theory, any registered medical practitioner can undertake work privately. However, there are practical barriers.
Firstly, private medical insurance companies do not have their own mechanisms for assessing the quality and suitability of doctors for being recognised as specialists. They rely on specific benchmarks, including the need to be on the GMC’s Specialist Register and to have successfully gone through an Advisory Appointments Committee (AAC), which is part of the NHS consultant appointment process.
Secondly - by law - private hospitals have very strict criteria for awarding practicing privileges to doctors using their facilities. These help to assure patients that they are being seen by experienced and fully-trained registered specialists.