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Monday, July 5, 1999 Published at 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK


Doctors reject patient charges

Doctors decided against charging patients to see their GP

Doctors' leaders have rejected calls at their annual conference to charge patients a £10 fee to consult their GP.

The BBC's James Westhead: "Doctors argue that charging may be the only way to maintain standards"
The motion was put to the British Medical Association conference in Belfast by Buckinghamshire GP Dr Jonathan Reggler.

Dr Reggler's motion called for the introduction of fees "at the point of delivery for some NHS services".

He told the BBC that a £10 fee was not too much for a consultation with a "skilled professional" and said there was growing support for the idea among his colleagues.

Dr John Chisholm, BMA GP committee: Charge would amount to a tax on the sick
He said: "More and more people are turning up earlier and earlier in the course of really very self-limiting illnesses and that is putting a huge pressure on the service.

"We need some way of making people think: 'Do I really need to go?'

"We cannot have a fully comprehensive free health service if we don't pay enough in taxes and what the electorate has said time and time again is that they are not willing to elect a political party that will put up taxes."

[ image: Dr Jonathan Reggler wanted charges]
Dr Jonathan Reggler wanted charges
Dr Reggler told the conference that the British public had been brainwashed into believing they had the best health service in world.

"We do not - we have the cheapest health system in the developed world."

However, representatives at the conference dismissed Dr Reggler's motion.

Colin Smith, chairman of the BMA's Medical Academics Committee, said: "I don't believe you should punish a patient for being ill."

Dr Smith said he had worked in a fee-based health service.

"I never again want to hear a patient say 'I can't afford to see you again - is there anything you can do without charging?'

"I never again want to hear a patient say 'yes, I can afford to see you but I can't afford the prescription.'"

GPs Dr Andrew Dearden and Dr Jonathan Reggler debate the issue of charges
West Berkshire GP Jonathon Fielden said: "The principle is wrong. It is the wrong time. It is the wrong message.

"Fees of any sort will have to be high enough to be realistic - a hurdle to frighten away patients.

"I want to prevent fear being used against our patients."

[ image: Dr John Chisholm]
Dr John Chisholm
Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA's GP Committee, said he was very glad the motion was rejected.

"It would be a tax on the sick, rather than society contributing to the costs of the NHS based on people's ability to pay."

However, Dr Chisholm said there was a strong feeling that the NHS was under-resourced, and that new funds had to be made available.

He said the £21bn announced by Chancellor Gordon Brown last summer simply was not enough.

Government criticised

The BMA conference will also debate a raft of motions which demonstrate the increasingly cool relationship between the government and the medical profession.

Many aspects of government policy have been criticised, including the establishment of walk-in centres, the fragmentation of the NHS, and ministers' emphasis on cutting waiting list figures, which doctors say have distorted clinical priorities.

Dr Ian Bogle, BMA council chairman, told the conference that the government was obsessed by media spin, and had set out to undermine public confidence in doctors in the wake of the Bristol heart babies scandal.

He called on ministers to slow down the pace of change in the health service, which he described as "frightening".

Other debates include one calling for the government to admit it was rationing expensive drugs such as the multiple sclerosis treatment beta interferon and the anti-impotence pill Viagra.

The government has consistently dismissed claims that patients are being denied certain drugs on financial grounds.

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