Jan Zeber, currently an intern at the CPS, on the rapid rise of Polish medical clinics and what it might mean for the NHS.
Are you fed up with long waiting times, paracetamol and no access to specialists every time you visit your GP? Did you think that private general and specialist healthcare are confined to Harley Street and came with hefty bills? Well, you are in for another surprise from the ever-enterprising Poles. Across the country, private clinics are springing up, staffed by Polish-speaking doctors and nurses, attracting patients from all backgrounds with flexible opening times, same day appointments and value for money.
My Medyk, a London clinic in Hanger Lane, was one of the first to open in 2008, offering general practice, dentistry, gynaecology, counselling and cosmetic beauty. It has now 30,000 patients on the books, another branch and wants to open more. The patients come from all backgrounds, including 6,000 Brits. They praise half hour same day GP appointments, opening times until 11pm, but most of all excellent the “customer service” (all for a mere £70 a visit). Patients have said how they felt that an NHS GP was not interested in their needs, thought he or she knew better and too often recommended an aspirin rather than antibiotics or a specialist referral (which can of course involve a 2 or 3 week wait).
Gynaecology in particular receives stellar reviews. A problem with the NHS service, often cited by mothers-to-be, is that you can only have two pregnancy scans at specified stages. This is far from satisfactory for women anxious to be put at rest that their baby is healthy. At My Medyk, an ultrasound scan is available for £70, or a 4D pregnancy scan for £165, all almost straight away. And you can get same-day access to specialists.
Paying to visit your GP has other benefits: £70 pounds for a half hour appointment may be reasonable, but it’s more than enough to make someone think twice before booking an appointment for a mundane worry. And it is definitely more than enough to prevent people from not turning up for appointments, a major issue facing NHS practice managers.
These clinics are of course doing the NHS a favour by reducing the workload. So such entrepreneurial approach to a gap in the healthcare market for speed and service tailored to individual needs is welcome and should be encouraged among NHS GPs of other nationalities who are thinking of setting up private clinics.
However, some in the NHS are far from enthusiastic. They may well be right point to highlight the dangers of over-prescription of antibiotics. They also argue that two pregnancy scans at specific stages of pregnancy is more than enough according to research. Is offering such services at the point of request for a fee simply profiting from people’s anxieties? Or is this a case of putting the patients’ desire for reassurance ahead of “the doctor knows best” approach?
The high satisfaction rates enjoyed by My Medyk and others suggest that we are likely to see an increase in their numbers as well as diversification of their proprietors. They might expand further, for example by offering major specialist treatments in private hospitals in Poland, as well as a paid service of regular check-ups at a friendly price, which at the moment is reserved for the rich.
Michael Gove’s great free school initiative was inspired in part by the success of a similar programme in Sweden (known as the Swedish model). Might the success of the Polish model inspire similarly courageous reforms for Jeremy Hunt? Perhaps it is just a matter of time before the revival of the healthcare mutuals, which would introduce healthy competition to the NHS – to the benefit of all?