How to Open a Private Practice in the UK

Disclaimer: Nothing on this page should be construed as legal, financial or tax advice. Please always consult a knowledgeable professional advisor.

According to the King’s Fund, approximately 11% of the UK population has some form of private medical insurance, though not all cover is comprehensive.

The private healthcare industry in the UK has faced obstacles during the course of the pandemic but substantial NHS waiting times is increasing demand.

Starting a private practice can be highly rewarding, as is igniting the next exciting stage of your career. Though, like starting any new business, opening a private practice comes with its own challenges. Read on as we explore which qualifications may be required as well as standard business considerations to keep in mind.

What is a private practice?

A private medical practice is independent of the NHS, offering direct and personal patient care. Patients will pay for their own care, usually on an ad-hoc basis or with private medical insurance.
According to RCS England, the majority of private care patients use private medical insurance policies, with just 20% paying directly out of their own pockets.

By comparison, NHS practices are mostly free at the point of access and funded by public taxes.

Only a small number of doctors work in private practices full-time, with many balancing both private and NHS commitments.

What skills or qualifications do you need to start a private practice?

Any fully registered medical practitioner may work privately and open a practice of their own. Though, there’s no single way to start a private practice - you will need to consider the following:

Qualifications – to become a licenced doctor and start a private medical practice, you must first complete a degree in medicine from an accepted medical school, followed by the two-year Foundation Programme. To start a private counselling practice, you’ll need a diploma, degree, or postgraduate qualification in counselling or psychotherapy.

Register with the General Medical Council (GMC) – you don’t need to inform your local council about taking private work, but you must follow GMC guidance on your duties as a doctor.

Business considerations

In many ways, starting a private practice is much like any other business. There are certain elements to consider for it to be successful and attract clients. Start on the right foot by creating a good business plan - and don’t forget to get networking.

Here are a few other things to consider:

  • Appropriate premises – ensure the premises of your practice are appropriate for your healthcare services – general or counselling. Conduct some market research and pick a good location for your practice accordingly.

  • Effective marketing – strong branding, a solid website, and online integration can help get your business out there and keep clients engaged. Square Online can help you build a striking website while organising appointment booking, payments, and more.

  • Set out client policies – client policies can help set expectations of services, including appointment cancellation.

  • Accounting – you will be responsible for book-keeping, staff employment, and any other costs involved with starting a private practice. These include taxes, cost of premises, and medical equipment. Accurate account management will ensure your business remains healthy and tax compliant.

Setting up your practice

Before you start a private practice and begin taking appointments, there are several important steps to follow to help make it a successful business.

  • Apply for a licence to operate an independent healthcare service.

  • You must obtain admitting rights and practising privileges to work in a private hospital, or any practice under a larger private medical organisation. These may be approved by the hospital’s Medical Advisory Committee (MAC). Consultants may even have admitting rights at more than one hospital.
  • Register with the Information Commissioner’s Office - doctors are legally required to register and pay an annual fee to handle personal patient data.

  • Register with HMRC within three months.

  • Decide whether you want to go in as a sole trader, start a business partnership, or even become a hospital-owned medical practice.

  • Acquire indemnity cover. All private practitioners require indemnity cover under one of the medical defence organisations, such as the Medical Defence Union, Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland, and Medical Protection Society.

  • Apply for specialist registration with GMC_. This allows private medical insurance companies to recognise you as a private practice so they can reimburse patient fees.
  • Check out the CCSD and HRG medical billing coding systems. These organisations provide a system of industry standard procedure and billing codes.

  • Decide if you require any additional hires, such as secretaries, lawyers, accountants, and personal assistants. Check out the government website to learn more about employing people, including health and safety at work.

How to decide what to charge

As a private consultant, you have the freedom to set your own charges. However, to avoid issues with competition law, you can’t discuss fee structure with your colleagues.

Competitor research in your area helps you determine whether your prices are fair, if there’s a gap in the market, or if there are any current trends to consider. You will also need to price your services fairly on your level of experience, including any specialist skills and resources you can offer clients.

To separate you from the rest, what unique incentives can you offer to attract clients? Essentially, what makes your practice good value for money?

A few examples might include:

  • Same day access to healthcare services
  • Flexible appointments
  • One-stop approach to consultation and examination
  • 24-hour healthcare
  • Treatment tailored to the client
  • Range of services

You may even be able to offer convenience services to make your private practice stand out, such as free Wi-Fi and amenities.

How to attract and maintain clients

The lifeblood of any business is maintaining a healthy relationship with clients and boosting new growth. It’s important to advertise your brand effectively and generate client loyalty to retain their custom.

Stay aware of your target audience and market yourself accordingly. Business cards are still great for networking, advertising your services, and demonstrating credibility.

It’s important to have a strong online presence beyond consistent branding and your website, as it’s often the first thing prospective patients will see. Integrating social media platforms can also expand your reach to wider audiences. Website building software like Square Online can seamlessly drive more clients to your website through Google, Instagram, Facebook, and more with built-in SEO tools – so you can focus on your practice.

Build your brand around unique personal care and outstanding service - what can you offer that your competitors can’t?

When it comes to personal matters like healthcare, people want to know they’ll receive excellent service. Word of mouth can verify quality if clients are recommending your practice to others. You could even take advantage of testimonials on your website.

Taking payments at your practice

Your private practice is a business. It’s vital to be able to see your progress once you start taking payments. Having a system in place that makes payments and reports a breeze can relieve unnecessary stress, allowing you to focus on important work and customer service.

It’s a good idea to research your options and find a system that suits the nature of your practice. For example, will clients pay at the practice via invoice or in advance online?

Harley Street Medical Health Centre in London was an enduring private practice during the pandemic in 2020, despite strains caused by COVID safety measures. Expenses shot up as they fought to stay open safely. Not to mention, their existing technology was slow, creating congestion within the practice as patients waited to be processed.

With the help of Square Terminal, their time spent taking payments was reduced by an impressive 75%, allowing them to care for 200 patients a day with little friction. Our virtual Terminal can also take remote payments online or over the phone to reduce risk of contact within their practice.
In the midst of it all, Square offers live help when you need it most, so you know who to contact in case of an urgent problem.

If your dream is to deliver excellent service as a medical practitioner while calling your own shots, it might be a good idea to start your own private practice.

Square can help small businesses every step of the way as they embark on their exciting new career path, from seamless payment options to even more helpful information available on our blog.