Doctors Want Payments To Stop Patients Turning Up ‘For No Reason’
- Poll finds 51 per cent of doctors in favour of introducing charges
- But some fear fees will discourage sick people from seeking treatment
Most family doctors think patients should be charged for appointments to deter them from turning up at surgeries ‘for no reason’, according to a poll.
They want the NHS to impose fees of between £5 and £25 per consultation, with some arguing that wealthier patients should pay £150 a time.
The numbers of patients seeking appointments is expected to double over the next 25 years driven by the ageing population with more people falling ill. Experts say the only way the NHS will be able to afford to care for all these people is by charging for some treatments and services which are free.
But some senior doctors and campaigners fear that fees will discourage sick patients from seeking help.
A poll of 440 GPs by Pulse magazine found that 51 per cent were in favour of making patients pay a small fee for routine appointments.
The majority said the charges should be between £5 and £25 per appointment but one anonymous doctor called for means testing with the wealthiest patients paying £150.
Dr Shailendra Bhatt, a GP in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, said: ‘I work in a walk-in centre. The amount of people who come through the door for practically no reason at all and say “I was out and saw this sign for a walk-in centre where one can see a doctor, so I came in.”
‘People don’t value the things if they get it cheap, worse still if they get it for nothing.’
And one anonymous GP said: ‘Charging must be introduced. Amongst many others I have one patient who made 116 appointments in a 12 month period.
‘We tried many, many avenues of reducing them, and guess what happened – she went and complained to the ombudsman.’
The Patients Association said that any charges would threaten the founding principles of the Health Service.
Chief executive Katherine Murphy said: ‘The NHS was founded on clinical need, not the need to pay and is meant to be free at the point of use.’
She said the NHS should be finding ‘innovative’ ways of saving money rather than charging patients, adding: ‘The problem is not patients: it’s the GP contract, the failure of the NHS 111 service and the weaknesses of primary care. Some GPs may be worried about their workload but patients are the ones who are really suffering.’
GPs said the money raised by the charges would not go towards their salaries but instead would pay for extra drugs, staff and even bigger premises needed to cope with higher numbers of patients.
The British Medical Association, which represents GPs, is not in favour of such charges.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, practises in Harrow, North West London. He said: ‘Charging patients would have adverse effects and would fundamentally be to the detriment of GP-patient relationships. We need to preserve trust between patients and their GPs.’
Dr Sheila Pietersen, a GP in Bristol, warned fees would also increase bureaucracy.
‘The costs of administering fees would be huge and chasing people for non-payment would be difficult and time-consuming.’
Dr Edmond Ferdinandus, a GP in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, said: ‘A small fee will make patients feel they have a large entitlement.
‘If we do this, I predict the extra income will be entirely cancelled out by extra prescriptions, investigations or referrals.’ Last year a report by consultancy firm Deloitte calculated that by 2035 there would be 433million GP consultations a year up from 300million presently.
This is due to the higher numbers of the elderly suffering from complicated health conditions but the report said there would not be enough GPs or surgeries to meet the demand.