GPs FROM across the UK yesterday resoundingly rejected calls to introduce a charge for access to general practice. The proposal was debated and voted on at the Local Medical Committee (LMC) conference in York.

During the debate, GPs expressed concern about the extreme funding pressures facing general practice, but agreed that patients should not be penalised because of a funding shortfall from government.

General practice is under increasing pressure due to rising demand from an ageing population with increasingly complex medical needs, but is without the necessary investment in staff, resources and premises to meet this challenge.

Commenting on the vote, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the BMA GP Committee, said: ‘Many GPs are frustrated and concerned about the future of general practice given that many GP practices are struggling from a combination of rising patient demand, falling funding and more work being moved from hospitals into the community. Six out of ten GPs recently told a BMA survey they were considering retiring from general practice.

‘In this climate, it is understandable that the Local Medical Committee (LMC) Conference wanted to debate the need for extra funding for overstretched GP services. But introducing a charge for services would be a tax on illness, hit the most vulnerable the hardest and threaten to undermine the principle of an NHS free at the point of delivery.

‘Introducing a financial transaction would undermine the trust between doctor and patient. If patients are deterred from seeing their GP due to an additional cost this could result in their illness deteriorating and costing the NHS even more.

‘GPs have today sent a resounding message that charging patients is not the solution to the financial crisis facing the NHS. The BMA is committed to a health service that is free at the point of need and accessible to all and we should proud to have an NHS GP service where no one has to pay to get the treatment they need.’

Earlier Dr Nagpaul, Chair of the BMA’s GP Committee, opened the GP’s conference warning of a funding crisis that has left GP practices ‘hung out to dry’.

He said: ‘Today, nearly a million patients will visit their GP surgery, that’s 16 times more than those who’ll attend Accident and Emergency units.’

Dr Nagpaul continued: ‘Last year’s GP worklife survey by Manchester University showed GPs suffering extreme levels of stress – the highest since records began, and a sharp rise in those intending to retire early.’

On the threat of closure of GP surgeries up and down the country, Dr Nagpaul said: ‘The immediate priority must be to protect those practices whose futures are at stake by imposed Minimum Practice Income Guarantees (MPIG) and Payment Medical Services (PMS) funding cuts.

‘NHS England has flagrantly reneged on its assurance of national protection for outlying practices. The reality has been for practices to be left hung out to dry, at the mercy of pointless local negotiations with no funding, and without a thought as to the effect on patients.’

He added: ‘And government must recognise that starving general practices of cash, is starving services for patients. And it’s patients who suffer.’

Defending junior doctors he warned: ‘Continue to put off younger doctors into becoming GPs, continue to accelerate those leaving the profession, and you certainly won’t have the last laugh when you won’t have a GP to turn to in times of need, and when the NHS collapses because its very building blocks have imploded.

‘But we won’t just roll over and let this happen.’

On the ‘ten minute consultation’ he said: ‘We need the time to care. The ten minute consultation as a standard is an anachronism that should be consigned to the dustbin of history. Ten minutes is an insensitive insult to the needs of so many of our patients – those with long term, complex or mental health problems. GPs are forced into providing conveyor belt medicine at breakneck speed up to 60 times in a day.’

Answering the media attack on GP’s he said: ‘I’d like to thank our greatest partners and allies – our patients, the overwhelming majority of whom continue in repeated surveys to express gratifying levels of satisfaction and most importantly trust in their GP – something that will always elude politicians and the commercial world that government is so in thrall of.’