Moonlighters await green light

August 4, 2000

Cambridge University might allow top medical academics to moonlight in the private sector to prevent a potential brain drain.

The university's general board wants to change the regulations and allow staff to engage in private practice for "personal reward", following problems with recruitment and retention.

A report from the board says this "arises from continued concern within the clinical school about the recruitment of clinical academic staff".

The university has to compete with both the National Health Service, which allows consultants to keep up to 10 per cent of their gross salary in private income, and from rival medical schools, "many of which allow clinical academic staff to benefit from private work".

The Bett report into pay and conditions in universities found that about two-thirds of medical schools allow some degree of private practice, although some only allowed it if there was no personal gain. Other schools reject it, said Bett, because of a view that "given the multiple time pressures on clinical academics, private practice was incompatible with their teaching, research and NHS service commitments".

Bett said that although allowing private practice risked damaging teaching, research and NHS work because of time pressures there could be benefits to recruitment and retention.

Under Cambridge's plans, any professor, reader, lecturer, clinical lecturer or assistant director of research who has an honorary clinical contract with the NHS will be allowed to attend to private patients for not more than one half-day (one NHS session) each working week. Private patients should be seen at the hospital where the honorary NHS contract is held or, if suitable facilities are not available there, at "an institution geographically convenient".

Cambridge will also benefit from the private work, administering all the private fees through a university company, Cuts, which will charge a management fee.

Cambridge said: "It will be the responsibility of the heads of departments to ensure that the officers do not exceed the one session limit and to make certain that the private work undertaken does not impair the performance of the officers' university duties or conflict with the interests of the university."

Bett rejected a British Medical Association proposal to allow 30 days a year for "external activities", because "a presumption of 30 days for external activities would be difficult to justify when most clinical academics are under pressure from existing teaching, research and NHS service commitments".

But Bett said the issue of private work should be "looked at on a post-by-post basis".

NHS expansion plans, pages 6-7

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