GPs could be tasked with prescribing money off energy bills for their most vulnerable patients, under proposals put forward by the Treasury to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
First reported by The Sun on Saturday, the plans would see patients directed to their GP for an assessment of whether they are eligible for the financial support.
GPs would be tasked with verifying whether their patient needs help with their bills, either because they are sick, elderly or otherwise in need, before issuing the ‘prescription’, according to The Sun.
Patients would then receive cash from their local council or a voucher for gas and electricity, it said.
The Sun reported that it will be down to the next Prime Minister to sign off on the plans, so they would not come into force until a new leader is elected.
The measure is one option among the proposals to tackle soaring energy bills, which also include cutting the energy price cap by around £400, it said.
The Treasury confirmed to Pulse that it was preparing ‘options’ for the next Government.
The BMA said the proposals for GPs to prescribe energy bill discounts were ‘totally unacceptable’ and ‘beggar belief’.
BMA England GP Committee deputy chair Dr David Wrigley said: ‘We completely reject any suggestion that GPs do this work. They do not have the time or the skills to do the work of the welfare system.
‘In these next few months GPs already have to worry about delivering the Covid and flu vaccination programmes that will be necessary to see the NHS through the winter, on top of their daily crushing workload and the enormous Covid backlog we now see.’
He added: ‘At a time when GPs are already overwhelmed with the greatest workforce crisis and longest waiting lists in memory, this addition to their workload would be totally unacceptable.
‘It beggars belief that Government ministers think it is appropriate to suggest GPs undertake it.’
Dr Wrigley said that the Government ‘has not discussed’ the proposals with the BMA ‘in any form’ and added that ‘floating these sorts of proposals via the media is deeply unprofessional’.
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘Action does need to be taken to address this and minimise the impact of rising cost of living on people’s health, something that will impact on our most vulnerable patients most. But this cannot fall to GPs and our teams to facilitate.’
He added: ‘Some larger surgeries will offer additional services, such as links with citizens advice services that can offer financial advice.
‘But GPs and other members of our team are not qualified to assess whether people should or should not receive additional financial support to help them cope with rising cost of living.’
GPs reacted with dismay to the news of the proposals, branding them ‘utter twaddle’.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said that the Conservatives ‘have lost the plot on the cost of living crisis and haven’t got a clue about the level of pressure on the NHS’.
A Treasury spokesperson said: ‘We know that rising prices are causing significant challenges for families, which is why we have continually taken action to help households by phasing in £37 billion worth of support throughout the year, which includes specific support to help people through the difficult winter ahead.
‘We are making necessary preparations to ensure a new Government will have options to deliver additional support as quickly as possible.’
They added that no major fiscal decisions will be taken until the new Prime Minister is in post.