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Patients 'to be paid to see their GP'

By Lilian Anekwe

Patients are to be paid to see their GP as an incentive to stay healthy and avoid costly long-term illnesses under a new initiative.

The scheme has been given the go-ahead by North East Essex PCT and is set to be piloted in other areas after being welcomed by the Department of Health.

Patients at risk of long-term ill health will be offered cash payments or mobile top-up vouchers for attending health checks, or tokens that could be redeemed for health promotion measures, such as gym attendance.

Elderly patients struggling to pay winter fuel bills may also qualify for assistance with heating – to prevent conditions such as asthma and respiratory illnesses.

The scheme was approved at a PCT board meeting last week and is set to start as early as next month.

Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, chief executive of North East Essex PCT and a GP, told Pulse the scheme came about after feedback from colleagues.

‘We have agreed a policy saying we can use NHS resources to pay patients to go to their GP for things like health checks.

‘A lot of this is trying to work to bridge the gap in health inequalities. As far as I know there will be pilots of this scheme elsewhere. I'm keen for this to get up and running here as soon as possible – we are planning to begin next month.'

A Department of Health spokesperson was enthusiastic: ‘We encourage action to tackle health inequalities wherever they occur. However, it is down to local NHS organisation to decide on how best to use their resources to ensure they provide the most appropriate patient care and services for their patients.'

Dr Brian Balmer, chief executive of Essex LMCs and a GP in Chelmsford, said: ‘North East Essex PCT is a little bit braver than most and that's something we appreciate. They have tried something different and should be commended for that.'

Norman Lamb, health spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, last month suggested tax breaks for patients who attended lifestyle programmes or quit smoking. But he told Pulse offering direct payments for seeing a GP was too much of a 'blunt instrument'.

‘There should be scope to innovate to find out what works because current strategies aren't working. But the idea of offering a direct payment to go and see a GP is a dangerous one and it might create resentment.'

How the scheme will work

Cash payments – for patients at risk of cardiovascular diseases to attend a health check
Mobile phone top-ups – for children in care
Winter fuel payments – for elderly at risk of respiratory problems
Gym membership – for overweight and obese people

Elderly patient

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