Patients 'should be charged £20 per appointment'
By Lilian AnekweGPs should charge patients £20 per appointment as part of ‘radical action' to encourage healthier, wealthier people to avoid using the NHS except when absolutely necessary, a new report suggests.The report by the thinktank the Social Market Foundation says charging patients for appointments is the only way for the NHS to survive the impact of the economic downturn.The report – 'From feast to famine: reforming the NHS for an age of austerity' – argues that the NHS must follow one of three paths to beat the credit crunch: generate more money, use existing resources better, or ‘slow the inexorable growth in healthcare demand'.‘The NHS must recognise that fair does not necessarily mean free. Charging for access to healthcare, as they do in many European countries, offers the NHS the best chance of making people think about how to ration their own use of precious health resources', the report says.‘Charging does not undermine the principle of fairness in securing equal access for equal need', it continues.David Furness, co-author of the report said: ‘Free care for all will end up making the NHS less fair. The alternative to getting people to ration themselves is a return to rationing by stealth – waiting lists, crumbling hospitals and poor quality services – which hits hardest the poor and sick. ‘The charging system should be completely overhauled to make sure that the poorest people get completely free care. Sir Fred Goodwin should not get free prescriptions, when he picks up his pension, while working poor people pay for drugs.'What else does the report recommend? • The NHS charging system should be reformed to reflect income, not categories such as pregnancy or retirement
• Capping NHS charges for GP appointments and prescriptions at £100 per year
• The 30% of the population receiving tax credits should be totally exempt from NHS prescription charges
• Local contracts for GPs and consultants
• The abolition of FESC and strategic health authoritiesSource: Social Market Foundation