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Dr Kailash Chand: ‘Charging patients is not the answer’

The NHS is facing a tough economic climate – but charging patients for important medical equipment that improves their health is not the answer.

I understand that CCGs are in a tight spot largely through the Government’s failure to provide the resources necessary for the NHS to cope with rising patient demand, especially from our ageing society. However, we should not move to a system where walking sticks, knee braces and wrist splints come with a price tag.  

If these are issued to patients it is because there is a clear clinical need for them from the patient’s perspective. It is not a nice little luxury they could do without, it is a key part of reducing pain and improving a patient’s life. By attaching a bill to these items all that will happen is that vulnerable people on low incomes, especially the growing numbers of people in their 70s and 80s, will not be able to afford them.

From a practical point of view this will clearly damage the health of a section of a population that is prone to other conditions and circumstances that will no doubt necessitate more admissions to hospital, visits to the GP and so on. In the long term, this measure will actually end up costing the NHS more money and waste further time, exacerbating the very problem that the introduction of charging is supposedly designed to solve.

Morally, there is also a strong, clear argument against charging people for treatment devices they need. This goes against the ethos of the NHS and could result in the beginning of a division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in healthcare.

I am certainly not against CCGs, and others, striving for greater efficiency and making sure every penny is spent wisely. But we cannot and should not begin to undermine the care of our patients and return our nation’s cherished health system to the dark period before the Second World War, when the quality of your health depended on the size of your bank balance.

Dr Kailash Chand is deputy chair of the BMA and a retired GP.