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NHS users should pay £10 a month, says former health minister

Patients in the UK should start paying a £10-a-month NHS ‘membership charge’ to save it from its funding crisis and help pay for annual MoT checks for everyone, a former Labour health minister has urged.

Lord Warner, who served under Tony Blair, warns that the NHS will become unsustainable without new sources of funding and painful changes, and recommends that everyone who is eligible for prescription charges should have to pay the £10-a-month charge.

This report followed a Pulse survey last year that showed more than half of GPs were in favour of charging for appointments.

The report, co-authored with Jack O’Sullivan, an expert in new thinking in health and social care, for the think-tank Reform said dramatic action was needed as the NHS faces an expected £30bn-a-year gap by 2020 between the demand for healthcare and its ability to respond.

It said: ‘A membership fee of £10 a month for all adults, with similar exemptions to those for prescription charges, would leave about 23 million people paying an annual fee. This would raise over £2bn a year for local programmes. We think that such a scheme might be popular, if the money went directly to local programmes rather than into central government coffers.’

It added: ‘NHS Membership could entitle more people than now to an annual “Health MOT”, running basic health checks. It would review progress over the previous year, agreeing individualised goals and NHS support for the coming year, with a focus on management of chronic conditions and more support for carers.’

Commenting on the proposals, Dr Ian Wilson, chairman of the BMA’s Representative Body, said: ‘Whilst some of [Lord Warner’s] proposals merit closer examination, resolving under-funding should not be at the expense of the most vulnerable in society nor at the fundamental principle that the NHS needs to be free at the point of use and the BMA firmly believes that charging for patients is not the solution’.

Meanwhile, a recent opinion poll revealed that Britons are overwhelmingly against the introduction of GP charges to help the NHS balance its books.

According to the ComRes poll of 2,039 adults, commissioned by the Whitehouse Consultancy, a Westminster firm specialising in healthcare, one in four people said they would be willing to pay £10 for a GP visit rather than see their practice shutting down, but more than double that – 56% – were against.

The Pulse survey last year found that just over half of GPs are in favour of the NHS charging a small fee for routine appointments, with many believing it is the only way of managing their workload and curbing rising patient demand.

Of the 440 GPs polled in the survey, 51% said they would support charging a small fee for GP appointments, compared with 36% who would not.  

This was followed by a separate report from Reform that found that charging patients £10 a time to visit their GP would raise an extra £1.2bn a year in England.