18.06.2024

GPs demand the right to charge NHS patients allowing those who pay to jump the line

Family doctors are demanding the right to charge their patients for private appointments. It would allow wealthier patients to pay their GP to effectively jump the queue and potentially avoid the 8am scramble to be seen.

But critics last night warned the ‘two-tier system’ could lead to medics shunning those who cannot afford to pay, leaving them without access to care.

The Guardian reported that some patients were paying up to £550 an hour to see a private GP amid frustration at the delays many face getting an appointment with an NHS family doctor.

Clinics are wooing customers by offering short-notice consultations which involve seeing a doctor face to face or remotely – and they can last for much longer than the standard ten-minute NHS equivalent.

Clinics are wooing customers by offering short-notice consultations which involve seeing a doctor face to face or remotely (stock image)

Clinics are wooing customers by offering short-notice consultations which involve seeing a doctor face to face or remotely (stock image)

It comes after dentists slashed the number of NHS treatments and consultations they delivered in order to prioritise their more lucrative private services. Elected GP representatives yesterday passed a motion calling for the introduction of private charges at the annual conference of UK Local Medical Committees (LMCs).

The statutory body represents individual GPs and practices as a whole, and its opinion helps shape British Medical Association policy and negotiations with NHS England regarding GP contracts.

The motion said: ‘Conference notes that unlike dentists and pharmacists, GPs cannot currently offer many private services to their NHS patients, and believes that GP surgeries should at their discretion be allowed to offer their NHS patients paid-for services if these services are routinely offered by the NHS but are not accessible in a time frame that the patient deems reasonable.’

Delegates also passed a motion saying GPs should be allowed to charge their NHS patients for services not ‘routinely offered by the NHS’ and that GPs should be trusted to ‘manage potential conflicts of interest’ arising out of these changes.

Some GPs expressed concerns about the policy worsening health inequalities and perpetuating a two-tier system, according to GP magazine Pulse.

Dr Jessica Randall-Carrick said: ‘This motion perpetuates the inverse care law. Those that have the least need of our services will demand it more, and those with the more disease, the more severe disease earlier in life, will be given whatever energy we have left over.’

Dr Naomi Rankin said allowing GPs to offer paid-for services ‘blurs the line between NHS and private care’ and ‘encourages a two-tier healthcare system’.

Critics last night warned the 'two-tier system' could lead to medics shunning those who cannot afford to pay, leaving them without access to care (stock image)

Critics last night warned the ‘two-tier system’ could lead to medics shunning those who cannot afford to pay, leaving them without access to care (stock image)

Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, which campaigns for the elderly, said: ‘Our members will read this news with horror. If GPs are allowed to start charging their patients to jump the queue, it really will be the end of the NHS as we know it.

‘We have seen what has happened with NHS dentistry as dentists have increasingly prioritised private treatments, leaving many NHS patients unable to be seen.

‘If we introduce a similar two-tier system with GPs, they would prioritise those areas where they can make more money and the poor will be unable to be seen.’

Dr Clare Bannon, deputy chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee, said: ‘The possibility of offering patients services privately that are not available on the NHS is something that is being explored.

‘However, it’s worth noting that there is limited evidence to suggest that offering paid-for services for routine NHS care can help to improve access. We will use the result of today’s motion to consider our work going forward.’

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