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The News Line: News ‘Slippery slope to privatisation’ THE FIRST GP surgery in Maidstone Kent to charge patients for 15-minute face-to-face consultations is open for business! The GP surgery works through ‘Uber-style’ company ‘Doctaly’, with campaigners warning that this is the ‘slippery slope to privatisation’.

Cobtree Medical Practice in Sutton Valence is the first in the area to offer private appointments in the doctors’ lunch breaks or after hours. If you can’t get an appointment for love you might get one for money. Using the service, if you pay up to £70, you can get an appointment if the doctor can squeeze you in. It has prompted fears that desperate patients, struggling to see their GP, will be forced to pay to see doctors charging for slots during lunch, and before and after surgeries and during evenings and weekends.

The founder of the private company ‘Doctaly’ which runs the scheme believes that GPs ‘can and should’ provide fee-paying services in parallel to NHS services. Doctaly has been described as an Uber-style service as patients log on to the Doctaly website to book an appointment with an NHS GP at a time and location that is convenient to them. The cost for a consultation is £39.99-£49.99 during ‘normal hours’, which are 9.00am to 6.00pm. According to Doctaly, GPs will be able to hike up the price to up to £69.99 for a session at busier times and for out-of-hours and weekends.

Dr Jackie Applebee, who sits on the BMA GPs committee, has previously said Doctaly is ‘very worrying’ and will ‘further destabilise general practice’. She said: ‘This sort of service is the slippery slope towards privatisation of the NHS.

‘This is not the answer to the crisis in general practice. It introduces the principle of topping up NHS services with purchased services if one has the disposal income.
‘If the more affluent begin to do this in significant numbers it is only a small step to an insurance-based health service.’

Meanwhile, GP surgeries facing an ‘unsustainable workload’ should divert or cancel all routine appointments, under a new ‘emergency alert’ system proposed by doctors union the BMA. The BMA, which voted in favour of ‘emergency alerts’ last year, has established four ‘operational pressures escalation levels’ similar to the system used in hospitals.

The BMA guidance, prepared by the GP Committee (GPC), suggests that 25 routine appointments a day are a ‘safe’ limit for individual GPs, with 35 deemed as ‘unsafe’. For more complex consultations, the number is lower.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey: ‘No right-minded thinking person would want their patients to be seen by tired, exhausted doctors.’ Dr Vautrey said the system was necessary as GP workloads are ‘increasingly unmanageable’ owing to ‘the demand of more complex patient needs, widespread recruitment and retention issues, and years of underinvestment – all of which takes a toll on GPs’ physical, mental and social health.’
 
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