A&E fees will not ease NHS pressure, GPs warn

Charging a fee for A&E visits could force patients in need of hospital treatment to seek help at GP practices and put vulnerable people at risk, GP leaders have warned.

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard: charging for A&E is wrong approach (photo: Pete Hill)
Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard: charging for A&E is wrong approach (photo: Pete Hill)

Pressure on emergency departments would not be reduced by charging patients, the GPC and RCGP warned.

More funding for GP practices to expand capacity would be more likely to reduce pressure on A&E, they suggested.

The comments came after a Press Association poll found that a third of GPs backed charging for some A&E visits.

RCGP treasurer Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘The overwhelming majority of GPs still respect the founding principle of the NHS: that healthcare should be provided free at the point of need.

‘Emergency departments are really struggling but the way to solve the crisis is to adequately fund general practice, so that family doctors can provide more care for patients in the community.

 ‘GPs conduct 90% of the NHS contacts for just 8.39% of the NHS budget. If general practice was better funded many people who are seen in emergency departments could be seen by a local GP.’

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Both GP practices and A&E departments are under enormous pressure from a combination of falling resources and rising workload that will need a co-ordinated response across the NHS.

‘We will not solve the problem by penalising less well off patients by erecting financial barriers within the health service.

‘It could be counterproductive as patients who are deterred from seeking medical attention at A&E, may end up becoming more ill, requiring greater hospital care later on. Patients could also inappropriately seek treatment at their GP practice, even if they genuinely need hospital care. This could act as a perverse incentive that sends patients in the wrong direction for their care.’

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