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GPs pursue legal challenge to lift ban on charging own patients for extra services

Exclusive A group of GPs are in talks with lawyers over plans to legally challenge the ban on GPs charging their own patients for non-NHS services.

The GPs, from New Forest Central Medical Group in Hampshire, are in early discussions with lawyers regarding a legal case which would challenge the part of the GMS contract that stops practices from charging their own patients for extra services, such as chicken pox vaccinations.

To help fund the legal fees, the group launched a crowdfunding page last Sunday which has already reached over half of its funding target.

The BMA’s GP Committee expressed its support for overturning the ban, and said that while it had sought this change previously, NHS England had ‘chosen to not pursue’ it.

Currently GPs can provide private services but not to patients who are on their registered practice list. This means that they are forced to send their own patients requesting certain services to other providers, despite them being medically advisable.

A key example of this is with gay men, who are at a higher risk of HPV, but cannot get the HPV vaccine on the NHS.

With the aim of changing this, GPs at the annual LMCs Conference in Edinburgh last year passed a motion calling for the Government to allow practices to charge their own patients for non-NHS treatments.

But the GPC was unable to push through the stance in 2018/19 contract negotiations, with a presentation given earlier this year showing that NHS England opposed the changes.

The New Forest Central Medical Group are hoping that a legal challenge on the ban will be more effective.

GP partner Dr Matthew Davies – who is also a qualified lawyer – is leading the challenge.

He said: ‘From the practice’s point of view this would hopefully increase funding, giving us greater freedom to employ more clinicians and cross-subsidise the funding of NHS work.’

Dr Davies explained that not only would this increase patient choice by allowing practices to ‘offer cosmetic skin lesion removal, non-NHS vaccinations such as chickenpox, or even 30-minute, out-of-core-hour appointments’.

It would also help practices attract junior doctors, as they could compete with specialities that allow doctors to provide private services, he said.

The medical group spoke to LMCs around the country prior to launching the crowdfunding page last weekend, and reported a ‘significant degree of support’.

So far £3,130 has been donated – over half of the £5,000 target – in less than two days.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The BMA has, for some time, sought a change in the GMS contract to allow practices to provide services that are not otherwise commissioned by the NHS to their patients. NHS England has so far chosen to not pursue this with us.’

He said that the BMA believes that GP should be able to ‘provide minor treatments and procedures that are not available through the NHS’ as this would reduce the ‘need for patients to seek expensive private hospital procedures’.

Dr Vautrey added that ‘any change must not compromise the care available to all patients, free at the point of delivery within the NHS contract’.

A recent Pulse survey revealed that eight in 10 GPs would welcome charging their own patients for non-NHS services, such as longer consultations and certain vaccinations.

However some GPs expressed concern that this would ‘normalise fee paying’ in general practice.

Tower Hamlets GP and LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee said: ‘Allowing practices to charge their own patients for services not available on the NHS is the thin end of the wedge, and will help to normalise fee paying in a previously fee free domain.’

She added: ‘Charging may well bring in more money for practices but it will also usher in a two-tier service, in which the affluent have better access.’