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Reducing the cost of attending medical meetings

Dr Jeremy Phipps provides top tips on reducing costs associated with attending medical meetings or events.

Professional bodies may offer member discounts for educational events
Professional bodies may offer member discounts for educational events

Continuing professional development requires regular education. In addition to being a necessity for GPs, this may be an interesting diversion from daily practice, but it unfortunately usually entails a degree of financial outlay. 

While much on-going education may be obtained through low-cost local or online courses, attending medical meetings further afield is still a regular occurrence for most doctors. This may be mandatory to ensure a degree of specialism, for example, maintaining Section 12 practitioner approval, but is mostly through personal choice. 

There is a level of professional and social interaction that occurs at medical meetings that cannot be replaced by virtual or distance learning. The chance to discuss information, pathways of care and share current difficulties can enhance this form of education. 

The majority of  fees, travel and accommodation that relate directly to course you are undertaking are legitimate expenses, that can be off-set against tax if you are self-employed. However, with a little consideration, these expenses may be reduced further.

Be an early bird

Many event organisers give ‘early bird’ discounts to delegates who book well in advance, so if you know there are courses you wish to attend (or topics of particular interest), look out for these. If you attend an educational event annually, sign up for text or email reminders.

If the course is run by a college or other professional body of which you are a member, there will probably be a member discount. It may even be worth considering whether the cost of joining an organisation might prove a good investment, if you are likely to participate in future associated education.

Rather than booking a course immediately, compare similar options. Lower-cost courses may also be available; for example, defence bodies often run extremely good value courses at a variety of venues. 

Seek sponsorship

Sponsorship by pharmaceutical companies to attend certain meetings, including subsidised travel and accommodation, may be available to GPs, particularly if you have specialist knowledge or are deemed to be an opinion-maker in the profession. 

However, in the current financial climate, less money may be available for this sort of sponsorship than in the past. Also bear in mind that pharmaceutical industry watchdog the ABPI http://www.abpi.org.uk/Pages/default.aspx has strict rules around sponsorship; only a basic level of travel and accommodation may now be funded. You would also be required to declare this sponsorship in any future discussions or publications relating to the company’s products. 

Make price comparisons

Longer meetings and courses further afield may necessitate overnight accommodation. Usually, course organisers will have an arrangement with local hotels to give reduced rates for attendees. This is often the most cost-effective option, but it is certainly worth checking for lower prices with some of the price comparison websites. 

Research travel options

Many courses are held in city centre sites with minimal parking and train travel may be most convenient (with flying a good option for locations near airports; the cost of a flight is often lower than a train fare). Obviously, book early and outside of peak times, but also consider the following points.

While third party bookings through agencies may seem cheaper initially, there can be added costs not initially visible. Many agencies issue a booking fee, a seat reservation fee and possibly credit card fees. These are rarely added when journeys are booked directly with train companies. 

If you opt to drive, parking can be expensive. Rather than paying high car park fees, a more unusual, and often low-cost, possibility is to use ‘parkatmyhouse’,  a website that matches drivers with individuals, churches and small businesses which may have room on their driveway or yard for one or more cars to use on a temporary basis. My personal experience of using this has been positive. 

If you intend to hire a car, note that there is often a very large excess on the standard insurance for you to pay should there be a claim, often £500 to £1000.  This large excess can be reduced by taking out extra insurance in the form of a collision damage waiver (CDW). The hire care company may charge £15 - £20 a day for this but it is possible to purchase separate personal CDW through specialist companies at a much lower cost. For example, icarhireinsurance.com will charge around £40 a year for a CDW.

Should you be unfortunate to have an accident, you pay the hire car company and claim the cost back through your specialist CDW insurer. 

Note tax rules

Since train fares and flights that relate to educational events can be offset against tax,  it is tempting to tag a holiday to the end of trips, especially those held abroad. This may make financial sense, but bear in mind that, if you do this, you are unlikely to be able to offset costs against tax.

  • Dr Jeremy Phipps is a GP in Peterborough

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