New Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has shelved plans to introduce a £10 fine for patients who miss GP or hospital appointments.
His spokesperson told Pulse today that ‘now is not the right time’ to take the policy – which he had touted during his previous leadership bid – forward.
However, they added that the ‘sentiment remains’ that ‘people should not be missing their appointments’.
Mr Sunak first announced the plans as part of his first bid to become the next Prime Minister earlier this summer, when rival Liz Truss beat him to the leadership.
Under the plans, it would have been up to GPs to make the judgement on whether to fine a patient.
Responding to claims that the newly-appointed Prime Minister was standing by the plans, a spokesperson told Pulse that they have actually been shelved following negative feedback from GPs.
They said: ‘On plans for charging £10 for patients who miss NHS appointments, the PM’s deputy spokesperson said the sentiment remains people should not be missing their appointments, but the Government has listened to GPs and health leaders and acknowledged now is not the right time to take this policy forward.’
When the plans were first announced in August, the BMA said the plans were ‘terribly disappointing’ and would ‘likely make matters worse’.
It said they would ‘undermine the essential trust between doctor and patient’, increase health inequalities and threaten the fundamental NHS principle of free care at the point of need for all.
And the NHS Confederation warned that the ‘administrative burden’ of the measures could ‘far outweigh the money brought in by the fines’.
It comes as official data this week revealed that missed GP appointments last month reached their highest levels so far this year.
The NHS Digital data for September showed that almost 1.4 million GP appointments were missed by patients last month, representing 5% of all appointments at GP practices.
This is the highest figure since November last year, when just over 1.4 million appointments were recorded as ‘did not attend’, representing 4.7% of all appointments that month.
According to NHS Digital, more than 15 million GP appointments go to waste annually when patients do not turn up.
Under the shelved plans, patients who failed to attend their appointment without giving enough notice to the surgery to rebook it would face the charge.
Patients would be given the ‘benefit of the doubt’ for their first missed consultation, but after that would incur a £10 charge each time – at the GP’s discretion.
The system was to be ‘temporary’, while the NHS attempts to clear the elective backlog of seven million patients.
Commenting on the ‘U-turn’, BMA GP Committee chair for England Dr Farah Jameel said: ‘We’re pleased that, having listened to the BMA’s concerns, the Prime Minister is no longer planning to charge patients who miss their GP appointments.
‘We, of course, strongly encourage patients to attend their booked appointments, but punishing them when they don’t – the reasons for which can be many – is not the answer. To do so, especially during a cost of living crisis, would only deter the most vulnerable from seeking the help they need, worsen health inequalities, and ultimately undermine the essential trust between doctor and patient.’
However she added that the BMA has noted that the Government said that ‘now is not the time’ to bring in the policy, ‘rather than suggesting they have scrapped it altogether’.
‘This policy cannot be brought back to the table later down the line. Instead, all efforts must be put into restoring pay and addressing punitive pension taxation to ensure we have safe levels of staff to deliver the high-quality care that patients deserve, both now and in the future,’ Dr Jameel said.
Back in 2017, a Pulse survey revealed that just over half of GPs think patients should be fined if they don’t turn up to appointments.
And in 2015, a major pre-election poll of 20,000 British adults found that around eight in ten people believe the Government should consider charging patients for missed GP appointments as a policy.