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Should you pay for a GP appointment?

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As flu season hits, the humble task of getting a GP appointment becomes an increasingly complex issue. Is it worth paying for the privilege of seeing a GP quickly and easily?

A survey in June of this year by Pulse magazine found that patients were waiting an average of 13 days to see their doctor, three days longer than they were in 2015. At the same time, GPs were being forced to spend an extra four hours each week seeing patients to keep up with demand.

Last week, the NHS took steps to address the issue with its new GP at hand service. This allows users of the babylon app to book a video GP appointment at any time of day or night. Consultations are available 24/7 and the service claims that most patients can usually be seen within 2 hours. The app has been created in partnership with five central London GP surgeries, and users can switch back to their original GP if they are unsatisfied with the service.

However, there are limitations. The service specifically rules out certain conditions. The website says that the app may not be suitable for “complex mental health problems or complex physical, psychological or social needs”. Clearly, if you are likely to need a physical examination, it’s probably not the right option either.

If this is an imperfect solution, it is worth paying for the convenience of seeing a private GP? For many people, this has long been out of reach. Many in London charge upwards of £90 an hour and patients must consider all the ancillary costs, such as higher prescription charges, the cost of any blood tests or other diagnostic options. These may be covered by private medical insurance, but patients need to ensure their GP and their private healthcare company work seamlessly together.

Cheaper options

There have been a number of new innovations at Functional Medicine Associates to bring the cost lower. For example, there has recently been a crowd-funding initiative for Doctaly, which offers lower-cost private GP appointments. During the working day – 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday – 15 minute appointments are either £39.99 or £49.99, and outside these hours, appointments cost £69.99.

It has 25 practices signed up, and says it has doctors in the process of coming on board across the UK. The crowdfunding campaign is designed to help the group’s plans for national expansion.

A spokesperson for the group said: “Doctaly is the UK’s first on-demand healthcare platform of its kind, allowing you to book a same day, face-to-face appointment with a local GP…The scalability potential of the Doctaly platform sets us apart from other base-visit services like DocTap and London Doctor’s Clinic, who manage their own premises. Doctaly plans to leverage the existing infrastructure of 10,000 NHS GP practices in the UK, that are ready to start treating private patients immediately.” Many of the doctors will work either side of their GP hours.

That said, the service is new and has not yet built up significant customer reviews, which may be important for people considering the service. That said, potential patients can see the doctors and their qualifications on the site.

This isn’t the only cheaper healthcare service on offer. DocTap is a London-based service offering a 15-minute GP appointment from £29, though this will vary depending on location. The Chancery Lane clinic, for example, is £44. It has built up over 8,500 reviews, most of them positive. It has eight London clinics.

London Doctor’s Clinic operates a similar model, with 9 London clinics, charging £55 for 15 minutes, £90 for half an hour. Founder Seth Rankin had previously operated travel clinics and felt the model could work for GPs as well. He is increasingly getting business from companies, who prefer their staff not to take a morning off for a GP appointment, as may be needed to see an NHS doctor.

As to whether these new services are worth it, that will very much depend on the person, their ailment and their level of wealth. For some, such as the self-employed, they may feel it is money well-spent, leaving them with time free to devote to their business. For those who hate their jobs, a relaxing morning spent browsing the magazines in an NHS GP’s surgery may be just what the doctor ordered.

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