Why might you need a private consultant?

Here are a few of the most common reasons why you might choose private healthcare:

1. NHS waiting lists

Waiting times for elective treatment failed to meet government guidelines before the pandemic, and lockdown only worsened things. Recent statistics show that only 63.5% of people were being seen within 18 weeks of referral, missing the 92% target by some margin.

2. Your condition isn't urgent but is affecting your quality of life

Of the 6.6 million patients waiting for elective treatment at the end of May 2022, 331,623 had been waiting more than a year and 8,028 for more than two years. That's a long wait if you're missing out on the things you enjoy.

3. Finding a private consultant can help you access treatment quickly

 When you book privately, you can be seen and receive treatment quickly, with many private practitioners able to carry out surgery within a matter of weeks.

Private consultants offering medical advice.

Accessing treatment with a private consultant

The process to access private treatment will depend upon whether you have private medical insurance or are funding the treatment yourself.

Using private medical insurance

You'll need to contact your insurance provider if you have private medical insurance. You may need NHS tests and a GP referral, but your insurers can arrange treatment once you have a diagnosis.

Paying for your own specialist treatment

When you're paying, you can choose your preferred consultant and arrange an initial consultation. They'll discuss your symptoms and medical history and then provide you with a quote, often a fixed fee.

You can then decide whether to book your appointment for surgery or go back to being an NHS patient. You'll still have a legal right to choose which specialist treats you.

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Getting consultant recommendations

Many different sources of information help you find a private specialist. Here's our round-up.

Your health insurance company

This is only possible if you have private medical insurance but if you do, talk to your insurers first.

Consultant lists

Each insurer has a list of hospitals and consultants they work with; they'll only fund treatment with these providers. You can still look at other sources of information to help you decide.

Ask for recommendations

Health insurers will sometimes include patient reviews for private consultants on their websites. Ask for recommendations, too, as many insurers can advise you on the best consultants for the treatment you need based on their experience.

Friends and family

If your friends and family have had private treatment, it's worth asking them about their experience, even if they can only speak in general terms about the hospital they went to.

Many private practitioners also work within the NHS, and you can check for feedback, including the 'friends and family test. You can search for local services here.

Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN)

You can access reviews and information by visiting PHIN's website.

What is PHIN?

PHIN have a government mandate to collect and publish information on private hospitals and private consultants so you can make an informed choice about your treatment.

What does PHIN do?

PHIN publishes information about private healthcare in private hospitals or within an NHS setting.

They also work with hospitals, the NHS, and the Care Quality Commission to improve treatment standards so you can be confident that their information is designed to help you access the best private healthcare.

Using PHIN to find a private consultant

PHIN's website search facility allows you to find services in your area. You can enter your postcode or narrow it down by including a specialist area and/or particular type of procedure.

Your GP

You may need a GP referral to access private care, particularly if you've already had tests or scans to provide a diagnosis. They can also help you to find a consultant. If you're able to access private GP services, they may be able to advise you too.

NHS consultants

As many private care providers also work within the NHS, your GP may be able to suggest a suitable specialist or advise you on a health professional you've found elsewhere.

GP insights

GPs follow up with their patients after surgery and see the results of treatments by different surgeons. Hospitals also send updates for your medical records.

This will influence what your GP thinks about the standard of care a surgeon provides.

Google

Google is a bit of a blunt instrument, but it can be helpful as a starting point.

Results may vary

You won't be surprised to hear that the standard of results you get will vary widely. It often depends on how much effort a doctor has put into search engine optimisation and being found in a search. When you search for 'orthopaedic surgeons in London' (for example), you could find hospital or practitioner websites with lots of detail and reviews.

You may also find links to patient review sites (more on that shortly).

Checking individual practitioners

Google can provide you with different doctors' names but will also let you investigate each practitioner further. You may find links to a private practice website and reviews of their work.

Information on local private hospitals

It's a good idea to look at reviews for the hospital where you'll be treated. You may find a great doctor but discover that the service you get from the hospital doesn't meet your needs.

You can also find out about facilities such as private rooms, TV, telephone and meal choices.

"I  requested a policy review having been with Bupa for over 10 years and was astonished by the savings I've made on mine and my husband's policy. If you're thinking about reviewing your policy do it, you won't be disappointed. "

by Erica - 27th April 2022
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Patient review sites

The main benefit of an independent review site is that it isn't linked to any particular hospital or private practitioner, so the information each site provides is usually genuinely unbiased.

There are limitations. Each site's information is only as good as the user content it gets. A lesser-known site may only receive a handful of reviews.

The information also depends upon patients feeling motivated to leave a review. Very satisfied or disgruntled individuals often do this, meaning you may not get the whole picture.

Doctify

Founded by two surgeons, Doctify gathers anonymous reviews from verified patients.

How does the site work?

All reviews are independently verified, so you can be confident you're getting information from a patient who has used the service.

What can you search for?

You can search for specialists by area, name, type of surgery, or medical specialisation. They also cover care homes, hospitals, clinics and dentists.

 You can filter your results depending on whether your private treatment is funded by health insurance or you're paying for it yourself.

 Top Doctors

 How does the site work?

The Top Doctors' site only features specialists who pass their rigorous selection process. This means there's a limited choice, but it could be less overwhelming.

They only feature verified reviews from patients who booked and attended an appointment through the site or reviews submitted by the practitioners themselves.

What can you search for?

You can search for individuals by name, different procedures or specialisms available in your area.

You can use the platform to book an appointment with your chosen consultant. They also offer an e-consultation category if you'd prefer an online consultation.

I Want Great Care

I Want Great Care is an independent service working with health professionals and patients to gather service feedback.

How does the site work?

The site allows people to submit a review of the care they received. It's unclear whether reviews are verified to ensure they're genuine.

The information it provides is a mixed bag. Some specialists are listed but don't have any reviews. Where there are reviews, the numbers range from one or two to hundreds.

What can you search for?

You can search by specialism and for individuals, hospitals and clinical services. 

Care Opinion

Care Opinion is a non-profit funded mainly through health and care organisations' subscriptions.

How does the site work?

Reviews can be submitted directly to the site. They also email the healthcare provider to allow them to respond to individual reviews and give you both sides of the story.

What can you search for?

The site has a general search function, so you can enter any term you choose.

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Next steps

 You've read the online reviews and think you've found the right consultant for you. What do you do next?

Check the GMC register.

To practice medicine in the UK, you must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). You can find individual providers' records to check that they're registered, what training they've had and whether they've had any fitness to practice issues. You could also contact the Royal College of Surgeons or the British Medical Association for further information.

Check your priorities

The consultants you've found might tick some boxes, but not others, so consider what's most important to you.

Consider whether you can accept a slightly longer waiting time for the specialist your GP thinks is the best or for a full range of treatments. What facilities or additional treatments are essential? How close to home do you need to be?

Talk to your specialist

Talking to your chosen specialist about your symptoms and medical history can show you how you'll be treated and let you consider whether you're comfortable having specialist treatment with them.

You can also discuss their specialist treatments, safety record, and success rates and request copies of any complaints.

Look at hospital reviews

All hospitals are inspected and regulated by the Care Quality Commission in England and equivalent health regulators in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They'll provide data on patient care and recommendations based on best practice guidance. You can find reports and information on their website, but you can also look for independent reviews on any of the sites we've listed above.

We hope that this has given you an overview of the sources of information that will help you to find high-quality healthcare and the right consultant for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main benefits of private medical consultants?

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  • Avoid NHS waiting lists - recent statistics show that only 63.5% of people were seen within 18 weeks of referral.
  • Access treatment quickly - many private practitioners can carry out treatment within a matter of weeks.
  • Freedom to choose - conduct your own research and find the consultant that's most right for you.

How do I judge the quality of a private consultant?

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Many impartial resources make information, including patient reviews of private consultants, publicly available. One such website is Top Doctors United Kingdom.

How much do private consultants cost?

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Private consultants' fees vary greatly depending on factors such as region and speciality. However, prices may not be as high as you think, and it is worth looking into before deciding on a treatment plan.

What is PHIN?

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PHIN have a government mandate to collect and publish information on private hospitals and private consultants so you can make an informed choice about your treatment.

PHIN publishes information about private healthcare in private hospitals or within an NHS setting.

They also work with hospitals, the NHS, and the Care Quality Commission to improve treatment standards so you can be confident that their information is designed to help you access the best private healthcare.