“I qualified as a doctor in 2010 and went into GP training and qualified as a GP in 2014. I started out working in the NHS before having my eldest daughter in 2017. When I went back to work after that I made the decision to switch over to private work. I was still doing a mix of NHS – going back to work as a locum at my old surgery in west London once a week – and private work to begin with but have just worked privately over the last two years.
“A typical clinic for me was starting at 8.40am until about 12 full of 10-minute appointments. Then you repeat that again in the afternoon. It’s very intense. You’re seeing about 30-26 patients a day, and in some places it will be more.
“It’s quite a heavy workload. Ten minutes is not a lot of time with someone at all, so there’s the time pressure and then add in referral pressures, waiting times have been getting longer. Job satisfaction plays a role too: how you’re feeling in yourself, your ability to actually help people.
“We have 20-minute appointments at our private clinic, which is probably standard for most private GPs – some will offer 30 minutes. And with some patients it does take longer than 20 minutes to see them, but at least you have that cushion.”
NHS England figures published this week revealed the number of GPs has dropped year-on-year for the third month in a row. A total of 26,822 full-time equivalent qualified permanent GPs were recorded at the end of August 2022, down 0.5 per cent from 26,950 in August 2021, according to NHS Digital. It follows a year-on-year drop of 0.6 per cent in June and 0.1 per cent in July.
Responding to Doctor Association UK’s concern of primary care becoming a two-tier system, Dr Ooi said: “There are some benefits [to that structure]. If you can direct people towards an alternative route, another way of seeing the GP, that sort of takes the pressure off the NHS because you have fewer patients ringing up their local surgery for appointments, and fewer patients queuing up adding to the waiting times.
“With the times we’re in we are used to convenience and accessibility: if you bought something on Amazon today you could probably get it this evening. Waiting is not necessarily something many people want to do.”
Dr Ooi said she would not be surprised if many more private GP surgeries pop up on UK high streets. “Providers are realizing they need to make it more affordable for patients, bearing in mind there is a cost of living crisis going on,” she said. “I do think there will be a natural growth [of private providers] over the next decade.”
Asked if she would go back into the NHS to work full time, Dr Ooi said: “I think it’s unlikely. It’s quite hard to go back. The NHS is great when it works, but the difficulty is the inconsistency. Lots of GPs are leaving because of burnout, the overwhelming pressure. It’s a balance against doing that work against prioritizing your own mental health as well.”