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Patients could be charged for GP appointments, BMA chair warns

GP appointments could be incur a charge within the next five years because of the poor state of NHS finances, according to the chair of the BMA.

Dr Mark Porter told The Guardian that said it was ‘inescapable’ that the next government would consider introducing fees for GP appointments and other health services when the NHS budget is under pressure.

He added that such a move would ‘destroy the whole ethos of the NHS’.

NHS England has forecast that a £30bn budget gap will open by 2020 unless savings are made and investment raised.

Dr Porter said that he thinks parties will look to charging to fill this gap.

He said: ‘I think they will be tempted. They said in 1950 that a Labour government wouldn’t introduce charging and it did.’

Dr Porter said that ministers might feel able to extend fees as they already exist in some areas of healthcare, such as for prescriptions, dental work and social care, with around 1% of the NHS’s income in England coming from charges.

He added: ‘You say it’s politically toxic. It’s not, really, is it? Look at dentistry and look at social care. They carry with them exactly the same offer to the public by which the NHS was set up; that we will remove from you – this society, us acting collectively – the terrible fear of bankrupting yourself by having an illness, by needing healthcare.

‘And yet we allow people to be bankrupted by social care and we allow people to be deterred from seeking dental care because of charges.’

Dr Porter said charging for GP visits or similar services would ‘destroy the ultimate ethos of the NHS’.

‘It’s inescapable that you’re deterring people from seeking healthcare. You deter poor people and sick people from seeking the healthcare they need.’

He added that there was no evidence that fees would deter frivolous use of the NHS and that the revenue gained would be nullified by the administrative complexities which would arise.

Spokesmen for the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all ruled out charging new fees within the NHS in response to Dr Porter’s comments.

A Pulse survey of 440 GPs in 2013 revealed that 51% said they would support charging a small fee for GP appointments, compared with 36% who would not. 

However, a significant majority of GPs at the 2014 LMCs Conference voted against a proposal to back patient charging for GP appointments.

An Ipsos Mori poll for the Health Foundation thinktank found last week that 59% of people would back tax rises to provide extra funding for healthcare, whereas only 16% would support new fees.