RCGP rejects fees for fast-track GP access and demands longer appointments

The RCGP has rejected introducing charges into general practice after a BBC poll found most people are opposed to fees for quicker appointments.

College chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that charging a fee to be able to see a GP within 24 hours would create a two-tier system where people who cannot afford to pay are pushed to the back of the queue.

She added that GPs need the time to have longer appointments with patients to manage increasingly complex, ageing patient populations.

An Ipsos Mori poll for the BBC found that 51% of the public opposed the proposal, while a fifth said they were willing to pay £10. The poll of over 1,000 people found that 70% supported charges for missed appointments.

GP workload

But that would involve overhauling practices’ admin systems for very little monetary return, said Professor Stokes-Lampard.

‘GP practices are doing a lot of work to avoid patients missing appointments, such as sending email and text message reminders, with positive effects – and we would urge all of our patients, if they can’t make an appointment, to let us know as soon as possible so that we can offer it to someone else,’ she said.

‘But charging patients when they miss appointments would involve significant overhaul of the administrative systems involved in general practice for very little monetary return as many people using services would be exempt from the charges. If a modest sum was charged, it would not be cost effective to set up – and if a more realistic figure was applied, it would disproportionately affect patients who are already struggling.’

She added: ‘In terms of introducing a charge to be able to see a GP within 24 hours – this would create a two-tier system of privatised general practice whereby those patients who can afford it get the care they need, when they need it, whilst those who can’t are pushed to the back of the queue to wait longer.

GP consultation

‘This would not help with the shortage of clinical staff and would fundamentally change one of the founding principles of the NHS, that care is free at the point of need, and is not something that the RCGP would support.’

as our patients grow older many are inevitably living with more than one long-term condition, making the standard GP-patient consultation increasingly inadequate.

Professor Stokes-Lampard added that GPs need to be able to spend longer with patients. 'We want the time to talk through all the different things that might be making a patient ill, and come up with a solid treatment plan in the best interests of their long-term health – that’s what GPs do.

'But with so many patients living with multiple conditions, affecting both physical and mental health, this simply isn’t possible in 10 minutes.'

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