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Career moves in Healthcare - Why the public sector isn't your only choice

Tags: Health & Social Care, blog

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By Lisa McLean

A career in Healthcare is much like a career in education, the military, or law enforcement in that it is very much a vocation - a calling to dedicate your life to helping others.

Qualified Healthcare professionals in the UK invariably find themselves working for the largest employer on the continent of Europe - the NHS. With a workforce totalling 1.7 million, around 1 in 50 people in the UK depend on the colossal post-war institution as their source of income.

But what happens when healthcare professionals - who still see a future in the Healthcare industry at large - become disillusioned with the NHS? At one time, options were scarce. Professionals would either have to learn to accept working within the NHS, emigrate to work for an overseas provider, or consider re-training for a new career in a different industry.

Today, a compelling fourth option exists...

Private Healthcare

I’ll start by making it clear that we’ll be keeping a healthy distance from the politics of privatisation of the NHS in this piece. As divisive topics go, it’s up there with Brexit, religion, and whether the milk should go in first or last when making a cup of tea.

Furthermore, we’re not necessarily discussing the privatisation of the NHS here, but rather the rise of private Healthcare providers which seek to meet the demand for a more personalised and premium service.

If you’d like to forge a career in Healthcare and are considering the private sector, there are few things you’ll need to consider.

What opportunities exist?

The exact number of professionals working within the UK's private Healthcare sector is difficult to deduce. There is a large degree of fluidity in workers moving between the public and private sector. For example, The British Medical Association (BMA) private practice committee estimates that 28,000 consultants undertake some private practice in the UK, with most concentrated in England. Relatively few consultants – approximately 3,000 – work exclusively within the private sector. These professionals are heavily concentrated in London, and the vast majority of them will have previously held an NHS consultant post.

For nursing, the most recent figures, collated as part of the Labour Force Survey April-June 2014, found that 13.1% of qualified nurses work for private healthcare providers.

As a general overview, a good indication of job opportunities in any given sector is the rate of expenditure. According to the Office for National Statistics, public sector healthcare expenditure grew by 3.2%, while private sector expenditure grew by just 0.3% between 2012 and 2013.

What the above data shows us, is that although there are opportunities in the UK's private Healthcare sector, applicants need to be realistic about securing positions quickly. The fewer the positions, the greater the competition.

Should you be undeterred by the significantly lower number of job opportunities within the private sector in comparison with the NHS, the next thing to look at is the pros and cons of working for a private Healthcare provider.

What are the pros of working in a private healthcare company?

Private Healthcare companies know that their reputation depends on the quality of care they are able to provide. The only reliable way of ensuring they deliver high-quality care, is by recruiting the best people. Benefits successful applicants can expect include:

  • Free health screenings and life insurance

  • Frequent training and education opportunities to both develop skills and encourage career progression

  • Smaller caseloads meaning a better work/life balance

  • Free parking – a bugbear amongst NHS staff is the requirement to pay for parking, private companies ordinarily offer free spaces

  • Greater opportunities for sideways moves with roles ranging from customer service, marketing, and clinical positions, to roles in finance, corporate affairs, and home care

  • More freedom, due in a large part, to the comparatively minimal bureaucracy that is rife within the NHS

What are the cons?

It is important before making a decision to switch from public to private sector, to be in full possession of the facts. There are compelling reasons to turn to a private company, and though less abundant, there are positions. However, applicants need to consider the following:

  • Pay. There is no set requirement for pay other than minimum wage in the private sector, meaning that you may have to negotiate to get a satisfactory deal. Statistics show that, on average, the public sector tend to pay more, the figure hovering around £5k per annum.

  • Related to pay, NHS and other public sector areas also have more straightforward set pay scales. If you feel you deserve a pay increase in the private sector, you’ll likely have to prove you deserve it, and begin negotiating again.

  • Career prospects. As planet Earth’s fifth largest employer, the NHS offers much scope for upwards mobility. By comparison, private companies are much more limited in what they can offer.

  • Annual leave/sick pay etc. Terms and conditions relating to these within the NHS are clearly set out and are generous. Expect to find that companies operating in the private sector struggle to match.

Do what's right for you!

As with most things in this life, the final decision sits with you. Having read this piece, you may feel the NHS is the best place to fulfil your Healthcare career ambitions. Equally, you may feel the private sector offers the benefits most pertinent to your situation and aspirations.

It’s a matter of fact that fewer opportunities exist outside the NHS, but they do exist, and great careers can be forged.

About the Author

Lisa McLean is Search Healthcare’s Managing Director. She has over 13 years of senior recruitment management experience within the health and social care sector.

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