The British Medical Association has officially voiced its opposition to charging patients in order to see a general practitioner, or for missing a GP appointment.
A vote at the Annual Representatives Meeting in Bournemouth rejected this notion, following close on the back of a vote by LMCs last month asking the General Practitioners Committee to produce a discussion paper on alternative funding options for general practice.
This proposal would include co-payments should it come to fruition.
GP leaders in Northern Ireland have already begun to construct plans to quit the NHS en masse and introduce charges for patients if 60% of practices sign undated resignations, as the situation in general practice becomes grave.
BMA chair Dr Mark Porter suggested that the motion would have no impact on the ability of GPs in Northern Ireland to respond to the crisis that is brewing currently.
Proposing the motion, BMA deputy chair GP Dr David Wrigley – speaking for the north west regional council – asserted that growing calls for charges would “introduce a consumerist approach to healthcare that would corrode the relationship we have with our patients”.
Wrigley also indicated his belief that while short-term savings may be made by this policy, it would ultimately turn out to be less than cost-effective.
Charges, Wrigley commented, “discourage the poor and disadvantaged from getting the care they need”.
In support of this assertion, Wrigley cited a charging system introduced in Germany back in 2004, which official statistics indicated led to fewer patients seeking treatment.
This was eventually scrapped as the authorities understood that it was proving a barrier to healthcare rather than being an assistance.
Furthermore, a study in the United States indicated that charging lead to a 20% increase in the risk of death for people with high blood pressure.
“Faced with charges, the evidence shows, people often do without preventative care and chronic disease management. Patient charges mean they have to decide whether symptoms warrant medical attention,” Wrigley concluded.
GP Dr Rachel McMahon, representing the LMC conference, also opposed the motion.
“Why was this such an important issue to GPs? It’s because of workload, and funding and all the pressure this has put on our workforce. How on earth are they going to cope? What is going to be the solution?”
McMahon suggested that it is not merely Northern Ireland, where she is currently resident, that would struggle should these policies be implemented.
Instead, all nations within the United Kingdom will experience difficulties if the charging policy is put into practice.
“We know this is going to be repeated across all four nations. GPs don’t want to see charging come about, we want proper funding, that is our plan A, that is what we will fight for. But we have not seen this happening so far, and we see no indication that the new governments are likely to change their strategies.”