POLITICS

David Cameron Insists No 'Intention' To Charge Patients Who Miss GP Appointments

03/07/2015 12:33 BST | Updated 03/07/2015 13:59 BST

Downing Street has moved to distance the Prime Minister from claims that the Government could charge patients who miss doctor's appointments.

In what looked like a rebuff to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, No.10 said that David Cameron had 'no intention' of slapping a fee on those who failed to turn up to see their GP.

Mr Hunt suffered a backlash after he told BBC 1's Question Time that he had 'no problem' with the principle of charging, adding that informing patients of the cost of missed appointments was a 'first step' to wider reform.

But the Prime Minister's official spokeswoman today said: "There is no intention to charge people if they miss appointments."

"The Prime Minister is clear that he's committed to free health care for everyone whoever you are and that he has no intention of charging."

She added that the cost pressures on the NHS were high, particularly when it was estimated that missed appointments in hospitals and GPs' surgeries were costing £1bn a year.

"But both are clear that there is no intention to charge. This is a government policy."

Both the Tories and Labour repeatedly warned voters in the last election campaign that UKIP had plans to charge patients to see a GP and the issue has long been toxic politically.

The Government this week announced all medicines costing more than £20 will be marked with their cost and labelled "funded by the UK taxpayer", arguing how £300 million a year is spent on wasted medicines.

But Mr Hunt went further on the BBC last night, declaring: "We are very stretched for resources, doctors and nurses work incredibly hard and we're going to have a million more over-70s by the end of this Parliament.

"If we're going to square the circle and have a fantastic NHS, despite all those pressures, we have to take personal responsibility about how we use NHS resources.

"I don't have a problem in principle with charging people for missed appointments, in practical terms it is difficult to do.

"But I have taken a step towards that this week by announcing that when people do miss an appointment they will be told how much that will cost the NHS as a first step."

Today Dr Richard Vautrey, the British Medical Association's GP committee deputy chair, said: "While patients do have a responsibility to keep appointments and inform practices or hospitals when they are unable to attend, charging for missed appointments is not the solution to this problem.

"GPs do not want to become debt collectors, and it's more than likely that it would cost more in time and resource to collect such payments than the NHS would recoup.”

And GP-turned-MP Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chairman of the health select committee of MPs, pointed out other problems with charging.

The Health Secretary also came under fire on Question Time from a GP who said his plans for seven-day services were driving doctors overseas.

"It's just not viable. I'm sorry, it's just not common sense. You're driving us all out of the country Mr Hunt. Most of us are in New Zealand.

"I'm not, I've family here, I have reasons to be here. But there are people jumping ship every day."

In his speech this week, Mr Hunt said: "There is no such thing as a free health service: everything we are proud of in the NHS is funded by taxpayers and every penny we waste costs patients more through higher taxes or reduced services.

"Yet estimates suggest that missed GP appointments cost the NHS £162 million each year and missed hospital appointments as much as £750 million a year.

"That is nearly £1 billion that could be used for more treatments or the latest drugs. On top of which we spend £300 million a year on wasted medicines."