Some NHS doctors boost their incomes by dabbling in private practice. But one psychiatrist has opted for a markedly different approach – selling his medical knowledge at the online auction site, Ebay.
Dr Syed Shah, a community psychiatrist for North East Essex Mental Health Trust, is auctioning off “education” on 36 mental health topics, ranging from schizophrenia, manic depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. At a starting price of £25, Ebay customers can bid to email Shah five questions on their chosen subject.
Shah, an NHS doctor for 10 years, assures buyers that “being a UK-trained psychiatrist, I can promise a reliable service.” With an entrepreneurial touch, his Ebay shop, adorned with colourful graphics, is entitled “Quality Online Store” and has the marketing slogan “quality goods at bargin (sic) prices you can trust.”
It’s an imaginative – as well as an unprecedented – move by a NHS medic. And Shah is pinning his hopes that this experience will give him the competitive edge over the hundreds of websites offering free mental health information. Shah, who previously worked as a psychiatrist in Manchester hospitals, then with Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Trust, admits: “Competing against health websites is going to be tough. But I am trying to stress that [if people buy from me] they will be getting knowledge straight from the horse’s mouth.”
Shah originally planned to auction one-to-one clinical consultations at Ebay. But, after seeking advice from the Medical Defence Union, he was deterred. “There are a huge number of regulations and insurance issues,” he explains.
Shah admits that he launched his Ebay store last year in the hope that the revenue could help raise the £4,500 needed for a masters course in medical statistics. Saying he is “fed-up” with NHS bureaucracy, this could lead him out of the NHS and into academia.
“The NHS is full of bureaucracy and I am disillusioned,” says Shah. He also laments organisational changes in mental health which, he feels, has devalued his expertise.
He says: “We have a new crisis home response team. It is a good idea, but one trouble is that if I see someone who needs to be admitted I have to send them to this team and my clinical judgement can then be over-ridden by nurses or social workers
“So, after 10 years of being angry about all of this, I thought ‘what’s the point?’. Selling stuff on Ebay is also a way to keep some cash coming in if I do this masters course.”
Shah’s store lists much more than mental health education. He offers around 800 items, ranging from camisoles to incense sticks to books on business in South Africa.
Shah has sold more than 400 items in total. However, he has yet to receive one bid for his mental health knowledge.
* Syed Shah’s ebay store
* A shortened version of this article appeared in the Guardian newspaper