Here in the UK, we are used to visiting our GP to explain our symptoms so they can decide what specialists we should be referred to. And we accept that this is the most helpful thing that they can do for us. But we then begin to worry how long the waiting list is for said department. In the past, that has left me feeling like I want to scream “But how long am I supposed to hang on like this without any help?” Instead, I’ve just mumbled “OK, thanks” and shuffled out the door whilst staring at the ground feeling powerless.
That was before I understood how the NHS and private medical sector work together.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking that if you have an appointment with a private doctor, it starts a process whereby the treatment for your condition is also done in the private sector. I experienced this when my solicitor sent me to specialists as part of my personal injury case following my car accident induced brain injury (my solicitor was not CFG Law). Previously I’d never imagined I would see a private doctor because it’s just too expensive, and because this was via a legal case for which I didn't have to pay upfront, I continued with this belief.
However, if you need to see a specialist, it may be more affordable to get a swiftly scheduled private appointment than you think. Recently, I had an appointment with a Gastroenterologist in the private sector as the NHS delayed my appointment by well over six months. I suspected my digestive system was struggling as a result of my brain injury. There is so much emerging evidence on how the gut and brain are more closely linked than we ever realised before. I was suffering and decided I needed some answers quickly. I just couldn’t wait that long to get some help! I felt my health and wellbeing were more important than money. Within a couple of days, I had a consultation and examination with the specialist. He gave me lots to useful information, prescribed some tablets for me and talked me through how to manage my condition. Then, as I wasn’t covered by insurance, he said he would refer me back to the NHS, and I only needed to come back to him again if I chose to. This appointment made such a difference for me! I went from vomiting several times a week and having extremely painful bloating and cramps, to feeling almost normal. It cost £210 (prices for different doctors and specialisms will vary) and whilst this isn’t small change, it was completely worth it!
Often the private doctor will also work for the NHS
If the doctor you see also works for your local NHS Trust, it is possible that the follow-up appointments could be with the same person if you then continue with NHS treatment. This didn’t happen in my case, but the letter the private doctor provided to my NHS doctor contained a great deal of information. This meant the NHS was able to focus on formulating a plan for my ongoing treatment, rather than spending extra time on diagnosis because this had already been covered.
The long-term benefits of using both the NHS and private sector in tandem are, in my opinion, well worth it. Think about if we were talking about a car, you would invest money in its repair as quickly as possible. Why? Because the knock-on effects of not having the car available for getting to work, ferrying the kids to school, getting the weekly food shopping etc. are not worth it. And come on, you ARE more important than a car!
Websites which can help you find a specialist in your area
- My health specialist - myhealthspecialist.com
- Top doctors UK - topdoctors.co.uk
- Doctify - doctify.co.uk
- Private Healthcare UK - privatehealth.co.uk
Being able to talk it through with a specialist can make such a difference
I finally felt understood and this was because the private doctor had extra time to go through it all with me. Even before I left his office, I had a sense that I was getting somewhere, and I was going to be feeling better soon. He sent me a copy of the letter he was writing to my GP but told me to hand her a copy as well just in case it didn’t land on her desk (it was just as well he said this because she hadn’t received it). As I was still on the waiting list, this was more so she could update my records and write the prescription for the tablets he recommended.
A private doctor can write you a prescription, but it will be a different cost to what you pay for your NHS prescriptions. There is a charge in England for prescriptions to go towards some of the cost of the NHS Budget (in 2010/11 this raised £450 million, which was only about 0.5% of the annual budget). NHS Wales and NHS Scotland do not charge for prescriptions; neither does Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland. However, even in England there is a list of conditions which make you exempt from the charge. Visit nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/help-with-health-costs/get-help-with-prescription-costs/ to see if you could be entitled and what you need to do to apply.
Therefore, if you do not pay for your prescriptions, it’s a good idea to see your GP so they can write you a prescription instead. There are a few drugs that they are not allowed to do this for, but they are usually not the things that a specialist will have recommended for you.
As a brain injury survivor, I have been seen by a number of different specialists, and so I’m not suggesting that it’s necessary for you to book an appointment with a private specialist in each new department you need to visit. But if there’s a particular problem that is impacting your life in a big way, and the NHS waiting list is overwhelmingly long, it’s definitely worth considering.
Nothing in this blog should be taken as providing medical advice or recommendations. Please always consult your doctor for medical advice and before taking any medication or supplement. Any opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not CFG Law Limited.