Trade unions yesterday slammed Labour’s privatisation policy in response to MPs’ criticism of the system of NHS charges.
MPs on the House of Commons Health Committee said the system was ‘a mess’ and called for an end to car parking and patient telephone charges and a review of prescription charges.
They singled out the Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, west London for a scheme charging pregnant women £4,000 for midwifery services.
The MPs say: ‘The Jentle Midwifery scheme provides cut-rate private care within an NHS hospital.
‘This is unacceptable. Essential care of this type should be given to all or paid for privately at full cost.’
UNISON health press spokeswoman Ann Mitchell told News Line: ‘This is another example of privatisation by the back door.
‘Hospital car parks should not be used to make money out of patients and staff.
‘Many new hospitals have been built out of town and public transport is often not a viable option. Staff working shifts have no choice but to pay up to park their cars at a safe distance from the hospital.
‘As for these exorbitant telephone charges it is simply immoral to make relatives and friends pay huge amounts of money for news about their family or friends.’
GMB national officer for health Sharon Holder told News Line: ‘Not only patients but staff suffer.
‘The charging comes out of the government’s privatisation policies and we are appalled that patients have to pay to use NHS services.
‘If cancer patients have to pay for car parking then treatment is not free at the point of use. This undermines the whole ethos of the NHS.’
A BMA spokesperson said: ‘High car parking charges can mean that poor, elderly and disabled people can’t get to out-patient appointments or visit their loved ones.
‘Worse still, they can’t even keep in touch by phone because of the cost of incoming calls to patients’ bedside phones.
‘Doctors are very concerned about the role of the private sector in the NHS.
‘The current system of prescription charging in England is anomalous, unclear, and difficult to defend.
‘Charges are not sufficiently transparent. A fundamental review of the system is needed.’
Michael Summers, from the Patients Association, said: ‘It is basically wrong to make money out of patients and their families.’
MPs on the Health Committee added: ‘The government claims that its exemptions policy is based on income: those who can afford to pay, those who cannot do not. However, this is not the case: many wealthy people are exempt but many poor working people are not.
‘It is evident that government policy is to maintain the status quo and not to upset any existing beneficiaries.’
They call for a review of prescription charges, the effects of the new dental contract and eye examination schemes.
The MPs also recommend charging patients who miss doctors’ appointments and ‘misuse’ casualty departments and to also consider charging for certain treatments.