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Appointment charges undermine principles of NHS, say GP leaders

The RCGP has said charges for GP appointments to be introduced would ‘fundamentally change’ a founding principle of general practice, after a motion was proposed for the 2014 LMCs conference.

Pulse revealed yesterday that LMC leaders would vote on whether to charge for appointments, after a motion from Wiltshire LMC called on ‘GPC to explore national charging for general practice services with the UK governments.’

But the proposal has attracted criticism by the profession’s leaders, with GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey taking to the social media site Twitter to say charging patients was ‘not the answer’ to the workload crisis.

A Pulse survey from last year found that just over half of GPs were in favour of charging a small fee for routine appointments.

The RCGP’s honorary treasurer, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: ‘Introducing a charge for appointments would fundamentally change one of the founding principles of general practice – that healthcare is free at the point of need.

‘Asking patients to pay would undoubtedly deter many people from seeking medical help in the early stages of illness when they can be dealt with cost-effectively and efficiently in primary care, rather than requiring expensive specialist care and increasing admissions to emergency departments.’

Dr Vautrey said on Twitter: ‘Charging patients for [NHS] care is not the answer to GP workload crisis. Increased funding from [NHS England and the Department of Health] certainly is.’

The motion, which is to be debated at the LMCs conference in York at the end of this month, read: ‘[This conference] believes that it is no longer viable for general practice to provide all patients with all NHS services free at the point of delivery.’