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GPs vote against charging patients for consultations

GPs don’t believe that patients should be charged for consultations, despite the pressure on general practice funding.

A vote of delegates at the Pulse Live conference in Liverpool today showed GPs remain against taking any payments from patients.

Some delegates were swayed during the course of the debate towards the idea of charding a nominal fee if this would incentivise patients to use scarce GP time more prudently, but this did not outweigh GPs’ concerns that it could deter vulnerable patients from seeking care.

Arguing in favour of a fee, GPC representative Dr Dean Eggitt said that patients who most need to see a GP are being disadvantaged by the access problems stemming from unchecked demand.

He added that better education around self-care was vital, but ‘general practice is dying fast’ and charges were a way of making sure expensive GP time was used effectively, not punishing patients.

He said: ’GP is being treated like a bulk-buy, discounted product, the Government comes up with the cash and gets a six pack of dementia reviews… and the rest of the NHS feels a bit like an all-you-can-eat buffet.’

But, arguing against charging, BMA deputy chair Dr David Wrigley said what was actually required was appropriate funding from politicians.

Dr Wrigley told delegates: ’Should GPs be paid for appointments? Should patients be charged for appointments? No. 100% no. Rock-solid no.’

But he added that patients did need to be enlightened about pressures in general practice.

Dr Wrigley said: ‘We need a massive public information campaign, clinical leaders like ourselves – the BMA’s got a role, the royal colleges have got a role – all of these organisations have to be telling the public.

‘Because at the moment they don’t know how serious it is, and if they did know then I think politicians will start to be fairly concerned about it.’

He added his worst fear was general practice would ‘end up like dentistry, by introducing charges’, saying: ‘Politicans will go: “look what GPs have done, they’ve privatised general practice”. And that will be NHS general practice gone forever, that is my biggest worry.’

But Dr Eggitt said the general practice was already at that junction, showcased by yesterday’s decision by GP leaders in Northern Ireland to seek undated mass resignations from the profession.

He said: ‘It is a finger on the red button, if that nuclear bomb goes off, then the NHS as you know it in Northern Ireland is gone, and something else will have to take its place. And we are heading in that direction

‘We need an open dialogue right now: that GPs are worried about the current system and we need to consider other systems because how we’re being funded no isn’t working.

‘We are dying and dying fast, I don’t want to punish the patients. But I do want to get rid of the patients who don’t need my professional expensive help.’