Paying to see the GP is a bad idea…

THE question of whether we should pay to see our GP raises its sickly head now and then. This morning the Sun newspaper recommends introducing such a charge.

Its leader article says: “People who can afford it could be asked to pay a small charge to see their GP. Or if you miss an appointment for no good reason you might face a fine. After all, we’ve lived with prescription charges for nearly half a century.”

People in York may not feel like believing the Sun, as yesterday the tabloid said that York was under water when in fact the city was dry but very cold. The Sun reported in a weather round-up: “York yesterday bore the brunt of weather chaos as floods wrecked home and shops, a year after similar devastation last Christmas.”

As my old newspaper pointed out, a photograph of Walmgate during last year’s floods was used in the newspaper, captioned: “Flood misery… York yesterday.”

So, if the Sun can get hold of the wrong end of the paddle when reporting on the weather, perhaps we should ignore its thoughts on the NHS.

The Sun’s opinion on paying to see your GP arises after Britain’s leading GP warned that she was “profoundly concerned” about how doctors will cope with demand over the winter. Helen Stoke-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs Council, said that GPs were “skating on thin ice” and warned that: “Something has to give.” The Staffordshire-based GP says that some patients are waiting weeks to see their doctor, and believes this could have potentially serious consequences for their health.

Dr Stoke-Lampard’s concerns are widely reported today, including on the front page of the Sun – “MONTH TO SEE GP” – which truncates her admittedly lengthy title to “chief doc”.

I am not with the Sun on this one. We shouldn’t have to pay to see the GP for at least two important reasons. One: a charge might put off those who cannot afford to pay, and their reluctance visit their GP could have serious consequences. Two: visiting the GP could end up as expensive as a trip to the dentist.

Before the introduction of the NHS – which, for all its troubles, remains a proud cornerstone of British life – people used to pay to see their GP. Some patients were suspicious of the new National Health Service, fearing that they would no longer receive proper attention if everyone could see the doctor for free.

There were also fears in 1948 that the new health system would be too easily politicised, and it is true today that politicians remain ultimately responsible as the NHS is funded through tax (rather than, say, insurance policies).

The greatest achievement of the NHS at its inception was the idea of universal access at the point of need. This remains its greatest achievement today.

On this matter, the Sun’s editor should go and stick his head in a London puddle. And on the York flood that never was, he should send a reporter to York before he next has a Noah moment.

Incidentally, it is fair to acknowledge that the NHS is hugely expensive, and likely to get more so. But a country that can afford to waste billions on pointlessly renewing Trident missiles can afford to run a decent health service.

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