Charging patients £10 a time to visit their GP would raise an extra £1.2bn a year in England, a new report has claimed.
The think tank Reform’s study of 31 developed countries found that 22 countries require patients to pay for an appointment with a GP, ranging from 85p in France to £17 in Sweden. If the Government introduced a £10 fee in England, this would equate to £1.2bn increase in funding, the report concluded.
The finding comes after a Pulse survey published in July prompted a national debate when it revealed that about half of GPs in the UK favour charging patients a small fee for routine appointments.
Reform’s calculations are based on adopting fees in the same way that other developed countries do. Its report argues that extra cash could also be raised through increasing prescription prices, charging patients a £10 ‘hotel charge’ for every overnight stay, and £10 for missing a hospital outpatient appointment.
Overall, these measures would bring in £3bn for the NHS, it concluded.
Thomas Cawston, research director at Reform, said: ‘Few will want to debate higher NHS charges, but the funding outlook for the service makes it unavoidable.’
‘Prescription charges are the easiest route to new revenue, with exemptions for people on low incomes.’
Pulse’s survey found that 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, which covered a wide range of different topics, 51% said they would support charging a small fee for GP appointments, compared with 36% who would not.
That represented a significant increase on the 34% of GPs who said they would support charging for appointments in a similar poll in September 2012.
The GPC and RCGP have said they are strongly opposed to introducing charges for patients, and ministers have also ruled out the idea. But Dr Paul Charlson, a GP in Yorkshire and vice chair of Conservative Health, said there were merits to charging for appointments.
He said: ‘I think it’s a good idea in principle because it would reduce the number of inappropriate visits to GPs. We would need to make sure that there are exemptions for people on low incomes.’
However, he added: ‘There would be drawbacks of this charging. It would be political suicide for a party to introduce this. They could only really do it if there was a feeling in the country that health services were falling apart. It could be time-consuming to monitor payments, bank them, and chase up non-payment – and there would be a cost to all that.’
Maximise your practice's financial potential and compare your performance with peers with Pulse Intelligence. Register for a 30 day free trial.