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Report author and GP
discuss patient charges
 real 28k

Monday, 21 August, 2000, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Support for 10 GP charge
Waiting room
A 10 flat fee has been suggested
More than four out of ten family doctors support the idea of charging patients 10 for an appointment, says a survey.

They believe that this will cut the number of instances in which a patient books an appointment and then does not turn up.

The survey of 400 GPs, conducted by Middlesex University, found 45% of English GPs in favour of the charge.

Approximately 42% were against the idea and 13% unsure.

What we would see is what has happened in dentistry, where the people who are most vulnerable and in most need of treatment don't go for it.

Dr Brian Keighley, GP
However, in Scotland, only a third of those questioned backed the proposal.

The survey also showed that doctors felt they were spending far too little time with their patients.

The majority said that a consultation time of 12 to 15 minutes, as opposed to the current average of eight, was necessary.

Professor Colin Francome, of the Department of Medical Sociology at Middlesex University, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think a lot of doctors have been put under a lot of pressure - this is a symptom that they are trying to change things."

However, the British Medical Association, which represents the vast majority of doctors, both in general practice and hospitals, voted against the idea of patient charges at its annual representative meeting in London earlier this year.

Many doctors are concerned that introducing any sort of appointment charge into the NHS, on top of the current prescription charge, would be a disincentive for poorer people to visit their doctor, even if the fee was means-tested.

GP and BMA Council member Dr Brian Keighley said: "It's a symptom of frustration and ever rising demand, fuelled by rising expectations and charters.

"We have the lowest number of doctors per head of population in Europe."

However he added that a charge would be counterproductive: "What we would see is what has happened in dentistry, where the people who are most vulnerable and in most need of treatment don't go for it."

Frivolous attitude

There are widespread complaints among doctors that many patients are prepared to waste their time, either by not turning up for their appointments, or by arranging them for frivolous reasons.

Chichester GP - and member of a key BMA committee - Dr Grant Kelly, told GP magazine, which published the research: "The British don't value our healthcare system and they need to.

"I think it would wake people up to the fact that the NHS has to be paid for."

Surveys have shown that the number of night visits asked for by GPs has risen by 500% in the last few years.

GPs face the challenge of the government's NHS Plan, which includes the standard that patients should be guaranteed an appointment with their family doctor inside 48 hours, and with another health professional inside 24 hours.

The profession has already warned that this will be a very difficult target to meet.

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07 Aug 00 | Health
NHS helpline 'risking lives'
03 Aug 00 | Health
NHS plan 'unworkable', say GPs
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