You can’t be surprised at this heading, or this proposal, as it has been muted many times – although not during election periods!
Is it such a perverse idea? You may say yes, because the founding principle of the NHS was always to be free at the point of entry. Yet we have moved away from that already in some areas: we pay for dentistry even when having treatment by NHS dentists; we pay for prescriptions; we pay for glasses and various other things.
So would it be so out of the way to pay to visit your GP?
We know the system is broken – people have difficulty getting appointments, problems with recruitment of GPs, nurses and associated community services. Would paying to see the GP resolve these problems?
Well they may have to go some way to fix some of these issues…
If people have to pay to see their GP, what would be the effect on patients? Would their expectations be raised and be more demanding as a result? Perhaps wanting a longer consultation or a faster service? Would they make an appointment because they have a slight cold? Would people be deterred from visiting their GP if it was not really necessary?
The other issues are the cost of administrating the charges – who would be exempt? Those who get free prescriptions? What about families with several children? Older people? Plus there is always the concern that people who really need to be seen by their GP will either delay or not visit. This can result in more serious illnesses developing which then cost the health and social care services far more.
There is also the question of “How much?” – £10 per visit is the amount often floated. A very basic calculation suggests that if there are around 350 – 450 million visits per year with a £10 charge – this would raise between £3.5 and £4.5 billion a year. A staggering amount.
However for many people £10 per visit will be far too high and some research into the cost of NHS dentistry has indicated that for many people the cost factor was a major reason for not seeking dental care. Which begs the question – how high were the costs when patients were forced to seek emergency dental treatment?
If we look at the categories of patients that are currently exempt from charges (e.g. prescriptions) then 90% will be free. This of course brings down the possible total income into millions instead of billions. Yet take in the administrative costs, as well as the price of patients slipping through the net and requiring longer more expensive treatment. Plus will our taxation go down if we are paying to see our GP? How on earth would they administer that?! The computers would blow up!
So no, I don’t think we should pay to see our GP. However, what I would suggest is that patients who do not attend their appointments (or fail to cancel in reasonable time) should be charged £10 for every missed visit – unless, of course, there are extenuating circumstances. The same should apply for those patients who miss their hospital outpatient appointments.
This will perhaps encourage people to treat their doctors with respect. After all, most services charge for non-attendance – I know of charity training groups who now charge £100 for non-attendance or late arrival. A useful model
Would you pay to see your GP? If so – how much? Or would you suggest that a charge is made if people do not cancel their appointment or turn up late? Let us know in the comments below.