October 28, 2019
A celebrity GP’s call to charge NHS patients 50p per doctor’s appointment risks pricing out the “most vulnerable in society”, a charity and health chief have said.
GP Faces Backlash Over Call To Charge 50p For Doctor’s Appointments
Dr Ellie Cannon wrote in her Mail on Sunday column that a “charge of some sort is needed” to prevent people from not turning up to their appointments – and appeared on Good Morning Britain to argue her case.
In every clinic she sits in, said Dr Cannon, at least one patient fails to show and offered an example. “On Friday, for instance, two of our 18 patients booked in for my morning clinic did not show up,” she wrote. “Most shockingly, they’d only booked in for their appointment at 8am that morning.”
Cannon believes there’s rarely a valid reason for those who don’t attend: “Rather it is laziness, disorganisation and profligacy.”But Sara Willcocks from Turn2us, a charity supporting people living in poverty, argued against the introduction of any “punitive measures”. An estimated 14.3 million people live in poverty in the UK. This includes 8.3 million working-age adults, 4.6 million children and 1.3 million pension-age adults. 
“Our health service needs to remain free,” Willcocks told HuffPost UK. “Adding in any cost element could be a slippery slope towards people on low incomes being priced out of healthcare. We do not endorse punitive measures being introduced into the NHS because of this risk.”More than 15 million GP appointments are wasted each year because patients don’t turn up and don’t warn surgeries that they won’t be attending, according to NHS England.
Each appointment costs an average of £30, putting the total cost to the NHS at more than £216m on top of the disruption for staff and fellow patients. That figure equates to the annual salary of 2,325 full-time GPs.
The NHS uses an SMS service to remind patients of appointments and encourage them to cancel if they cannot attend, so another patient can be allocated the slot. When it comes to hospital appointments, patients are notified how much their appointment would cost the NHS if they do not show up – which can be as much as hundreds of pounds.
Dr Cannon suggested a fee of 50p when patients booked an appointment would be reasonable. “It’s a charge small enough that’s it’s affordable for most, but large enough to teach patients the value of NHS time,” she said, likening it to the 5p plastic bag charge which has seen usage drop by 90%.Related... What’s Really Going On With Brexit Medicine Shortages? It's 'Complicated' The GP said she wrote her column with a “heavy heart” and believes the NHS should be free at the point of delivery, but added she’s “sick” of watching patients wait nearly a month before they got an appointment. Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said charging a fee was not the right solution. “GPs are carrying out more consultations than ever before to try and keep pace with demand but our patients are still waiting longer and longer for appointments, so it’s very frustrating when people don’t turn up,” she told HuffPost UK. “However, charging a penalty – no matter how small – is not the answer.”Stokes-Lampard added: “It will adversely affect the most vulnerable in society, and only overburden GPs and their teams by adding more bureaucracy when we are already facing intense workload pressures.”
GP practices across the country are already implementing “successful schemes” to reduce missed appointments, said Stokes Lampard, ranging from text messaging reminders to awareness posters in surgeries.
Asked whether a fee could be on the cards, a representative for the Department of Health and Social Care told HuffPost UK: “We are committed to a world-class NHS free at the point of use and we encourage all patients to inform their GP as early as possible if they cannot attend their appointment.” Related... Raynaud's Disease Impacts 1 In 5 People – But Many Have Never Heard Of It Why Corrie's Cervical Cancer Storyline Matters For Survivors Like Me These Brits Put Themselves In Therapy And Say It's The Best Decision They Ever Made
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