Britons overwhelmingly against GP charges to help NHS balance books
Poll suggests 27% would pay £10 but 56% against, with only 12% saying they would pay to guarantee next-day appointment
Denis Campbell, health correspondent
Saturday 29 March 2014 16.17 EDT
Britons are overwhelmingly against paying to see a GP to help the NHS balance its books, even if that means their local surgery closing, an opinion poll reveals.
There is growing interest in charging as a way to help the NHS meet rising demand for healthcare at a time when it is likely to receive only tiny budget increases. Even the chairman of the NHS in England has said the next government will have to consider charging in order to help the health service survive. But while one in four (27%) said they would be willing to pay £10 for a GP visit rather than see their practice shutting down, more than double that – 56% – were against.
Even fewer, 15%, were prepared to pay £20 a visit, with 72% – five times as many – opposed.
Britons are also against paying £20 to guarantee an appointment with a GP the next day, by a more than six to one margin. Just 12% say they would do that, although 79% said they would not, according to the ComRes poll of 2,039 adults, commissioned by the Whitehouse Consultancy, a Westminster firm specialising in healthcare.
Just 16% said they would pay £20 for an appointment that gave them a higher quality of care than they receive now, while 74% said they would not. Only 10% were prepared to pay £20 per visit if it meant them paying slightly less tax, with 77% opposed.
And there was even less enthusiasm for paying £20 to talk to a family doctor in order to help the government tackle the budget deficit. Just 8% agreed, with 84% against, according to the poll, which was weighted to be representative of the population.
There is more interest in higher earners paying to see their GP. Around 30% backed a £20 charge for those earning between £32,011 and £150,000-a-year, though a majority, 58%, did not. But there was a narrow majority in favour – 47% – of a £20 fee for those on more than £150,000-a-year, with 44% against.
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, who caused controversy last week by warning that general practice was "under severe threat of extinction" due to under-funding, welcomed the widespread rejection of charges. "Introducing a charge for appointments would fundamentally change one of the founding principles of general practice, that healthcare is free at the point of need.
Fees would prove counter-productive and ultimately more expensive, Baker said. "Asking patients to pay would undoubtedly deter many people from seeking medical help in the early stages of illness, when they can be dealt with cost-effectively and efficiently in primary care, rather than requiring expensive specialist care and increasing admissions to emergency departments."