Plans to charge patients for missed GP and hospital appointments could be back on the agenda in the next Conservative manifesto, according to a health minister.
Speaking to ITV yesterday, junior minister Maria Caulfield said that while the policy is not ‘on the table right now’, the Government is ‘not ruling it out for the future’.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak first announced plans to introduce a £10 fine as part of his first leadership bid last summer, but he shelved the plans in October saying it was not the right time to take the policy forward.
Ms Caulfield, who serves as the parliamentary under-secretary of state for mental health and women’s health strategy, said missed appointments ‘cost the NHS a huge amount of money both in primary care with GPs but also in secondary in hospitals and for procedures’.
However, she said the Government’s current focus is to use ‘digital transformation’ to make it ‘as easy as possible’ for patients to cancel appointments or to keep updated with their appointment date to avoid forgetting.
The minister, who has worked as an NHS nurse, said they ‘recognise that there’s a multitude of reasons why people miss appointments’.
She said: ‘I’ve worked in many a clinic where people haven’t turned up. The vast majority of those are not because people have deliberately not bothered to turn up.
‘Many times they didn’t receive the letter in time, or they forgot about the appointment, or they were unwell and couldn’t get through to cancel appointments.’
Under Mr Sunak’s plans last year, patients would be given the ‘benefit of the doubt’ for their first missed consultation but after that would incur a £10 charge each time.
His backer at the time, Tory MP Greg Hands, said that it will be up to GPs to make the judgement as to whether to fine a patient.
But the BMA criticised these plans, saying it had always been in opposition to a policy of charging patients for missed appointments.
A spokesperson for Mr Sunak told Pulse in October that the plans had been shelved following negative feedback from GPs.
But Ms Caulfield hinted yesterday that the policy may resurface in future, saying that while there are no ‘immediate plans’, there is a ‘good argument’ for it.
When asked whether it could appear in the Conservative Party’s next general election manifesto, the minister responded: ‘Potentially, yes’.
Over 1.2 million GP appointments in England were marked as ‘did not attend’ in May this year, which amounted to 4.5% of the total, according to NHS figures.
In February, a survey by Ipsos Mori found that 51% of patients would support fines for those who miss GP or hospital appointments.
And in January, former health secretary Sajid Javid said patients should pay a fee to see their GP in order to reduce demand.