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Public calls for doctors in private practice to repay NHS training costs

6th July 2011

New research reveals that the majority of British adults believe that doctors who carry out private work should be expected to repay the public funds used to train them, a move which could net the NHS £744m.

In a study for Benenden Healthcare Society, 57% of adults stated that if a doctor trained by the NHS goes on to treat patients privately, they should have to pay back at least some of the cost of their training1

A third of those questioned (31%) said that doctors should not have to pay back their training costs, as long as they continued to do their fair share of NHS work.  Just under one in eight (12%) of adults believe that as doctors pay tax on their private earnings they should not be expected to pay back any of their NHS training costs.

When asked whether doctors should combine public and private work at all, 76% of adults believe that doctors employed by the NHS should be allowed to see private patients in addition to their NHS role.  However, 69% of these people believe that the profits doctors make from private work should be regulated, while 21% feel that doctors should be able to charge whatever rates they choose.  6% say that doctors should not be able to make any profit from private work.

Training costs – how much should be paid back?

25% of those polled said the entire cost of a doctors’ training should be paid back if the doctor treats patients privately, 19% said it should be up to half, whilst 13% believe it should be between 50-100% of the cost. 

Those working in the public sector are equally likely to believe that doctors should pay back training costs as those in the private sector (59% v 62%).  Attitudes vary more greatly across the country.  In Scotland and Wales two thirds of people (66% and 64% respectively) think training costs should be paid back, whereas in London and the West Midlands, this falls to one in two.

With the NHS spending over £200,000 on average training each doctor, a repayment programme by doctors working in private practice could result in at least £744 million being returned to the NHS2

Ken Hesketh, Chief Executive of Benenden Healthcare Society, the leading mutual health & wellbeing organisation, said: “The findings of this research show that the debate over the future of the NHS is causing the public to consider all aspects of NHS funding and healthcare provision.  The study reveals that the majority of British people are largely comfortable with doctors carrying out private work, but feel that there is a deal to be struck.  They say that doctors’ profits from private work should be regulated, and that those who have had the benefit of public money to help train them for work outside the NHS should be prepared to make a financial contribution to the costs of their training.”