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DH not thinking about extending NHS charges, says finance chief

Civil servants in the Department of Health are doing no modelling for extending NHS charging, they have told a Lords NHS committee.

In a hearing with the newly appointed House of Lords Committee on the Long-term Sustainability of the NHS today, a panel of Department of Health representatives said that despite the pressure under which the service is under, there were no plans to stop NHS services being free to the public.

Andrew Baigent, director of finance at the Department of Health, told the committee that as civil servants, they were bound by policies laid out by elected ministers who have made no such plans.

He said: ‘The Government has been quite clear that it sees funding being taxpayer-funded [and] we are not exploring any particular avenues in terms of longer-term thinking about charging at the moment.’

Asked whether he thought continuing a free-at-the-point-of-need NHS is ‘sustainable’, Mr Baigent added: ‘That is current policy and that is the way we are thinking.’

He added that the Government is currently working on improving charging of people not eligible for free NHS care, such as overseas visitors, as well as considerations over prescription charging.

But he said this was all related to services that were already subject to fees, adding: ‘We have done no thinking beyond that in terms of charging.’

But Lord Willis of Knaresborough said: ‘I find it somewhat incredulous that we, like any modern healthcare system, are faced with issues of long-term sustainability… and yet you are doing absolutely no thinking about [whether] there are any items that we could in fact remove from the free at the point of delivery… and actually put them on the pay list.’