Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he has ‘no problem’ with the principle of charging patients for missed GP appointments.
Mr Hunt said that missed appointments was a particular area where ‘we can do a lot better’ and that it was an ‘incredibly important’ question in light of the pressures doctors and nurses are working under.
It follows an announcement earlier this week in which he had said the packaging of all prescription medicines costing more than £20 will have the indicative price and the label ‘funded by the UK taxpayer’ which Mr Hunt said he hoped would encourage people to ‘actually take their medicines’.
He claimed on BBC’s Question Time that, as part of this pledge, patients would be told how much their missed appointments had cost the NHS, although this did not form part of the announcement earlier in the week.
Taking questions last night, Mr Hunt went even further, when asked whether he would like to charge patients who miss their GP appointment.
He responded: ‘I think [the] question is incredibly important because we are very stretched for resources, doctors and nurses are working incredibly hard and we’re going to have a million more over-70s by the end of this Parliament.
‘If we are going to square the circle and have a fantastic NHS, despite all those pressures, then we have got to take personal responsibility for the way that we use NHS resources. I don’t actually have a problem in principle with the idea of charging people for missed appointments.’
However, he said that although he supports the idea in principal, he thinks it could be difficult in practice.
He said: ‘I think in practical terms it could be difficult to do but I’ve taken a step, if you like, towards that this week by announcing that when people do miss an appointment they will be told how much that has cost the NHS as a first step.’
A pre-election poll this January showed that around eight in ten people think that the Government should consider charging patients for missed GP appointments.
Meanwhile GPs in Northern Ireland are increasingly deploying a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule to curb the 10,000 DNAs they experience each week and GP practices in Stoke-on-Trent are informing patients of the consequences of missed appointments via social media, Pulse reported last year.
On the same programme, Mr Hunt came under pressure from a GP audience member criticising the Government’s ‘inconceivable’ seven-day access plans and the details of the ‘new deal’ for general practice.
She said: ‘You’re driving us all out of the country, Mr Hunt… There are people jumping ship every day. I’m sorry, on the day you announced your new deal many, many, many GPs across this country handed in their resignation that day. Do you know that?’
Mr Hunt’s response largely focused on the Government’s plans to fund 5,000 extra GPs by 2020, but the GP shot this down by pointing out that ‘it takes 12 years to train a GP’, to which another audience member shouted ‘no one wants to be a GP anymore’.
Mr Hunt responded that ‘it is not going to be easy, but we want to do it and I thought as a GP you would welcome that’.