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With the ever increasing burden on our healthcare services, is it time patients paid to see their GP

This is a guest blog written by Michael McIntee, a medical applicant

There’s no secret that our NHS is struggling. The health service is stretched thin, and we’re living longer than ever before with a greater knowledge to keep our bodies healthy. There’s a plethora of resources on the net for healthcare professionals in aiding them with handling what is considered a ‘trivial’ patient. This shows us that there are enough of these patients, who see a non-issue as worthy of medical attention, that it has conjured a need for the online resources to be created. How can we rectify this? One such solution is the introduction of a charge to visit the GP. There are arguments for this proposal and arguments against it. Personally, I dislike the idea. There is too great an inequality gap in society for this to be viable. Something as paramount as health must be treated with the upmost respect and compassion, and to begin charging for what should be a basic human right seems callous.

Firstly, an argument against the charging of patients to use their GP services can be compared to dentistry. In the UK individuals, who have the means to, are required to pay for dental treatment. Good oral health can be just as important as physical health and, according to The Independent, many people forgo dental treatment due to the cost. This is because it’s a standard charge for treatment per procedure regardless of means. For example, an affluent chief executive of a company pays the same for treatment that a low-paid shop worker pays. Factor in that the shop worker may have other outgoings, then dental treatment can take a back-seat to food and other necessities. Though this is strictly based on prediction rather than fact, it could suggest that the same third of Britons that reject dental treatment due to cost may also forfeit GP visits for the same reason. This could be catastrophic, as a fatal ailment which starts with something as basic as a small cough or sore stomach may see a patient grin and bear the pain – this could result in much more serious issues, which in turn may cost the NHS much more to treat.

An argument in support of charging for GP visits can be found in the aforementioned trivial patients. As John Appleby recognises in his article, the fear of costs may deter patients from approaching their GP with trivial matters, like a small cough that can be self-treated. The hope is that the fear of this £10 charge will force patients to ruminate on their conditions and symptoms before approaching their GP for treatment. The ambitious resultant effect is only the individuals that are genuinely sick approach their GP. But this is a fallacy. The introduction of this charge does not guarantee that those that approach the GP will be genuinely sick; it may be well-off hypochondriacs that continue to utilise the service. And the less affluent, and genuinely unwell, may stay home and allow a life-threatening condition to consume them.

Conversely, one might say that a ‘pay what you can’ approach may be better suited. This means that - as with prescriptions from NHS England – the elderly and those living in poverty will maintain free GP visits, whilst those that can afford the visit (like those in work) pay for it. This seems perfect on paper, but, as with most government initiatives to protect the poor and the old, it rarely translates pragmatically. Many say that certain people who are not classed as living in poverty, those people working and earning an income, allegedly have the means to pay for prescriptions, and in this case, GP visits. This is rarely the case. Usually these lower income families have children, possibly elderly family to care for too, and a GP visit is the last financial burden on their minds. For one to develop an argument that people who work can afford this charge deserves as equally as speculative an argument that those people may have old family to care for, and kids to clothe, feed, and fix with better opportunities for a better future.

In conclusion, it seems rather ludicrous to attempt to charge for someone’s health and well-being. You’re putting a price on a life, which no altruistic doctor – who is performing the work – would approve of. It could be considered a selfish suggestion, sanctioned by a greedy government who lets equality fester and disregards a human life to maintain the safety of the top 0.1%, far across the chasm and above the desolate troubles of the poor. And a government that would suggest charged GP visits, in the current climate, should reflect a fundamental flaw in their scheme. Most of us already pay taxes.

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