Exclusive CCG leaders have asked patients for their views on charging them for the supply of vital equipment such as walking sticks, knee braces and wrist splints in order to improve ‘value for money’, Pulse has learnt.
The proposal to charge for orthotics – made at a public participation group last week – is likely to mark the first time a CCG has considered charging patients for equipment usually provided free on the NHS.
GP leaders reacted angrily to the move, saying that it was a ‘worrying’ development for the NHS.
But the NHS South Warwickshire CCG – who raised the idea at the PPG – told Pulse that the idea of patient charges were raised alongside a ‘number of avenues’ at the meeting and that it was part of several ideas to improve the quality and value for money of the service.
The move comes after the prospect of greater use of patient charges in the NHS was supported by two influential voices. The King’s Fund recommended the Government considers charging patients up to £25 for a GP appointment and a former health secretary also called for GP charges.
The recent meeting with the patient participation group had a presentation on ‘options for self-funded orthotics’ and a GP at the meeting who did not want to be identified said that the reaction to the proposal was ‘hostile’.
Currently, the CCG has in place a £421,000 block contract for orthotics equipment with South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust and a spokesperson said that the meeting was discussing ways of improving the way this was run.
A spokesperson at NHS South Warwickshire CCG said: ‘At our latest patient and public participation group, one of our discussions was about how to improve quality and value for money of our orthotics service.
‘A number of avenues were discussed, in particular helpful comments about the equipment returns process and whether charging for equipment should be considered. This has not been discussed further within the CCG since the meeting and no proposals exist to develop this further.’
Gillian Entwistle, chief officer at South Warwickshire CCG, added: ‘The CCG includes patients at an early stage in its thinking about options for the development of services to ensure their opinions can inform its decision making.’
But GP leaders hit out at the proposals. Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary at Birmingham LMC, said that charging for essential equipment was a new development for CCGs.
He said: ‘If orthotics are part of a patient’s NHS treatment then the NHS has a responsibility to provide them free to patients. What are patients going to be asked to do next, pay for cardiac surgery?’
Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of the BMA, said: ‘This is definitely new. Things like this have been going on as far as the social care is concerned, but when it starts becoming a part of the mainstream, I think it is worrying.’