The rise of the private GP

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A new service in Leeds gives people the option of paying £99 for a half-hour private GP appointment. Catherine Scott reports.

A businesswoman has told how paying for a private GP appointment was the only way she could get a diagnosis for a long-standing condition.

Helen Rushworth, 42, a magazine publisher from Halifax, started to experience dizzy spells and fainting 12 months ago, which got steadily worse. Just before Christmas she collapsed and was admitted to hospital. She was later discharged without a diagnosis and was referred to an ENT spescialist at Spire Leeds who ruled out any ENT cause.

Helen, who is used to having an active lifestyle, and is a keen runner, continued to suffer from dizzy spells to the point where she felt so weak she was barely able to walk and didn’t dare drive in case she fainted at the wheel.

As a self-employed business woman, she was concerned that, as she was feeling so ill, she might not be able to continue working and that her magazine would suffer.

“I was at the end of my tether with no ‘next steps’ in place, my GP and hospital doctors could not find the cause of the problem. As I’m self-employed I couldn’t afford to let my health continue to deteriorate. However, I didn’t know where to turn to next.”

Helen collapsed again in early January and was admitted to the LGI for five days. She was discharged with the reassurance that her heart was fine (she has had a long-term aneurysm) and went back to her GP who advised it was likely down to stress and anxiety. Helen said she felt sure the problem was physical not psychological although the symptoms were causing her great anxiety.

“I heard about Spire’s new service and was able to get an appointment quickly.

She contacted Spire, and GP 
Dr Becky Harris saw Helen in 
the morning and referred her to 
see Dr Oliver Lily, consultant neurologist, at Spire Leeds Hospital, that afternoon. Following an MRI scan of the brain on February 2 Helen saw Dr Lily the next day who said the scan had ruled out a neurological cause.

Helen was referred for a Tilt Test which indicated that she is suffering with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)

POTS is a rare condition in which a change from lying to standing causes an abnormally large increase in heart rate, resulting in symptoms of dizziness / light-headedness, heart palpitations, headaches, chest pain, feeling sick and fatigue etc.

“The condition is often misdiagnosed, like in my case as anxiety or panic attacks by another hospital and two GPs,” says Helen.

She is now being referred to a Cardiologist at Spire Leeds whowill give her advice on managing the condition.

“Without using the private GP service at Spire I would have been nowhere near receiving a correct diagnosis.

“The Tilt Test arranged by Dr Lily was absolutely the right procedure to identify the condition.

“I feel so relieved and grateful to Dr Lily and Dr Harris at Spire Leeds, for listening to me and correctly investigating my symptoms. I can now concentrate on getting better and overcoming this rather awful condition.

“I think there is a huge need for this type of service. With the NHS in crisis mode I think we are going to have to take more responsibility for ourselves. If you really care about your health, this is a fantastic service, it offers immediate attention, takes the worry out of waiting and perfect for the self-employed.”

The service, which is open to anyone who wishes to self-fund for their appointment (or those who may already have a medical insurance policy) costs from £99 for a 30-minute appointment. Patients, including children and adults, can see Spire’s private GP as well as being registered with their NHS GP.

The GP at Spire can refer patients to any of the medical specialists and facilities at Spire Leeds Hospital, including blood testing, X-ray, ultrasound, CT and MRI scans.

Commenting on the new service, Spire Leeds Hospital’s GP Dr Becky Harris said: “It’s early days however we have all had some positive feedback from patients who have used the service. They really appreciate the time that I can spend with them.

“Having half an hour, rather than the standard 10 minute GP consultation, really makes a difference in being able to listen to what have been some quite complex problems. I’m finding that patients are using the service when they are struggling to get a GP appointment, need a little more time than their GP is able to offer them and when they are requiring a private referral.”