This site is intended for health professionals only

Leading doctors oppose calls to charge patients for GP appointments

Leading doctors have rejected calls for the BMA to consider charging patients for GP appointments in order to fund the NHS.

A motion put forward at the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting today was rejected in all parts, with leading GPs at the conference saying that co-payments are ‘a tax on sickness’ and ‘clearly not right’.

The issue was previously debated at last year’s LMCs conference in Edinburgh, when GP leaders tasked the GP Committee with creating a list of the charging options available and their potential positives and negatives, despite warnings that passing the motion would send the wrong message. 

The motion, put forward by doctors from the BMA divison in Gloucestershire, said: ‘That this meeting, in the light of the current resource and funding crisis in the NHS … believes co-payments from patients should be considered.’ 

Speaking for the motion, Dr John O’Driscoll, a GP from Worcester, said: ‘Allowing co-payments would mean there is more money in the system and will raise the standard of care available to the most vulnerable.’

He added: ‘Conference I’m only asking for consideration of co-payments, not an American system of healthcare. The time has sadly come, indeed it is long past, for such pragmatism. Help our most vulnerable, conference, and don’t let misplaced ideology and rhetoric continue to penalise them.’

A Pulse survey has previously revealed 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.  

Meanwhile, a YouGov poll of 2,000 UK adults in 2015 found that almost one in four British people is willing to pay for GP appointments.

But speaking against the motion, junior doctor representative Dr Cameron Spence said co-payments in dentristry have led to ‘delays in patients presenting with healthcare problems, which makes their management and treatment far more complex’.

He said: ‘Charging patients will inevitable increase healthcare inequality. Haven’t patients got enough barriers to accessing healthcare without cost being one?’

Dr Spence, who was previously a dentist, said: ‘Dentistry has seen a widening in oral health inequality, certainly since the introduction of the imposed 2006 dental contract and the insidious slide towards privatisation in dentistry in inevitable. Let’s not make the same mistake here.’

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a GP in London, said: ‘Co-payments are a tax, but it’s a tax on sickness. Those that are the illest end up paying more and that’s clearly not right. It strikes at the heart of everything that I stand for and most of you stand for.

‘We need to reject this whole motion.’

The delegates rejected the motion by 164 to 47 votes.

The motion in full:


That this meeting, in the light of the current resource and funding crisis in the NHS:-

i) calls on the BMA to encourage the government to consider alternative means of funding the NHS;

ii) calls on the BMA to lobby for alternative funding streams for social care;

iii) believes co-payments from patients should be considered. 

Source: BMA