Nearly three-quarters of GPs support charging patients for missed appointments if they are serial non-attenders, Pulse's survey reveals.
The survey of 237 GPs shows that – in certain circumstances – GPs are supportive of removing the cherished NHS commitment to be ‘free at the point of delivery'.
A further 30% said they would support a limit on the number of GP appointments per year that patients are allowed before they have to pay. Some 34% would support charging for all GP
appointments, the survey reveals.
The survey is the first to test the temperature of general practice on charging as the QIPP efficiency drive begins to bite, and comes shortly before GPs take the helm in CCGs.
Some 38% of GPs said they would support a limit on the number of A&E attendances that patients could rack up before they were charged, and half said they backed a reduction in the number of people eligible for free prescriptions.
After the PIP breast implant debacle, 44% of GPs said patients should have to pay for follow-ups after private treatment or screening.
Almost 45% of GPs backed controversial treatment restrictions recently introduced in some areas for patients whose lifestyle could affect the outcome of surgery, such as smoking and obesity.
But the proposal to add GP appointments to the list of other major paid-for health services – such as prescriptions, opticians and dentistry – is likely to be more controversial.
Dr John Etherton, a GP in Rottingdean, Sussex, said: ‘They should charge and patients could get a refund or partial refund. It would make people think twice about whether they need to see a doctor. It would filter out an unnecessary core.'
Dr Richard van Mellaerts, a GP in Kingston-upon-Thames, south-west London, said charging for appointments should be looked at, as it had worked ‘relatively successfully' in the Republic of Ireland and Australia.
He said: ‘There needs to be a discussion about it with patient groups, politicians, and the BMA and the medical colleges because the current system is running into more and more trouble.'
But Dr Mark Selman, a GP in Exeter, Devon, said he was against all charges. He said: ‘It will affect those who need healthcare most. If you have an NHS, it must be free at the point of delivery.'
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘The NHS is free for everyone. The GP contract does not allow registered patients to be charged for any form of NHS care a practice delivers or arranges.'