‘People give the NHS a harder time than it deserves. It does a fantastic job at looking after the nation’s health. No one goes out and dies in the street because of a lack of healthcare in this country.’
London Doctors Clinic founder Seth Rankin is assiduous about not badmouthing the health service, which is hardly surprising. If the NHS is the closest modern Britain has to a religion, then private medicine is heresy, a violation of the post-War covenant that we’re all in it together.
Yet as Rankin is keen to point out, London Doctors Clinic isn’t really competing with the NHS, at least not on healthcare. The idea behind this chain of private GPs is less to fight disease, and more to fight inconvenience.
Its unique selling point is that you can make an appointment digitally whenever is convenient for you, even at very short notice. If you wake up at 2am and think you’re coming down with tonsillitis, you’re a few clicks away from a guaranteed 10am meeting with a GP in central London, all for £55.
(As you’ll no doubt be aware, trying this on the NHS is somewhat less straightforward. You can call when the clinic opens to try to get an appointment at some point on the same day – not of your choosing – but that will only happen if you time the call exactly right, and it’s deemed urgent enough. The alternative is often a slot in two or three weeks’ time.)
London Doctors Clinic also specialises in notary services – fit to fly, too sick to take an exam etc – which NHS GPs charge for. In a sense, says New Zealand born Rankin, his business helps to assuage both middle class guilt at wasting GPs’ time and the burden this places on the health service.
Headquarters: Soho, London
‘When I first started I didn’t even have a receptionist. I remember taking out a small room in serviced offices, looking around and thinking what can I do for patients with only me, a prescription pad, an order form for blood tests and a letterhead,’ says Rankin. ‘I packaged our offering based on that, rather than trying to think of every service people need from a doctor.’
He was in a good position to know. An NHS GP for 25 years (he’s still managing partner of a practice in Wandsworth), Rankin cut his entrepreneurial teeth at the London Travel Clinic, a vaccination service he started in 2010 and successfully exited earlier this year.
Rankin started London Doctors Clinic in 2014, darting between otherwise empty offices on the back of his motorbike for a year before raising £1m from private equity firm Oakfield, in exchange for 66% of the company. He has since raised £820,000 on Crowdcube and a further £2m from an internal funding round, with another round forthcoming later this year.
Armed with cash, the company has been able to expand to 11 clinics around London, all profitable, with another two in the pipeline. The ultimate plan is to become ‘the core of a complete healthcare business’, including physiotherapy, psychiatry, minor surgery and the management of chronic disease.
It’s not just Rankin’s ambition that demands deep pockets. The nature of London Doctors Clinic’s proposition – reliably being able to offer GP appointments on demand, at short notice – necessarily requires some excess capacity.
‘We’re a retail business – we sell 15 minutes of a doctor’s time, so we have to have enough of those 15 minute appointments on the shelf that people can come in and know it’s reliably there. If it’s not, they’ll go elsewhere... though to be perfectly honest if you look at the market, there is nowhere else to go, presently.’
It’s not that there’s a lack of private GPs, Rankin explains, just that most of them are owner-operators that aren’t able to offer the same convenience. He doesn’t expect this to last, anticipating at the very least that the American healthcare giants will enter the primary care market to act as a feeder for their existing private hospitals. In any case, he’s not worried.
‘The market is so vast for providing convenient access to healthcare – to pretty much every aspect of life in London really – that we welcome it. The more practitioners there are, the more people will be aware,’ says Rankin. ‘Where there’s a Starbucks, there should be a Costa or a Nero.’
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