Charging patients for GP appointments will not work in any form, says College

College Vice Chair Victoria Tzortziou Brown appears in today’s Guardian, responding to an Institute for Government report into healthcare funding. You can read our full response here.

“The entire NHS is creaking at the seams, and we need to look at innovative ways of ensuring it can deliver for our patients, now and in the future.

“But charging patients for appointments will not work in any form. It will have the biggest impact on our most vulnerable patients and risks creating a ‘two tier’ system that favours those who can afford to pay and disadvantages patients who can’t. We simply cannot risk putting patients off visiting a GP when this is the care they need and deserve.

“Charging will also increase the administrative burden on GPs and their teams who are already buckling under immense pressures. The College’s latest research uncovered that, on average, GPs are already spending a third (33%) of their time on unnecessary workload and bureaucracy.

“General practice is the cornerstone of the NHS, but it is withering on the vine after more than a decade of under-investment and poor workforce planning which has led to a serious workload and workforce crisis. GPs are delivering tens of millions of appointments per month, even more than before the pandemic, but now with 952 fewer fully qualified, full-time GPs than 2019. Each GP in England is now responsible, on average, for over 2,300 patients – an increase of over 160 patients from the end of 2019 – and this is not sustainable.

“While the NHS long-term workforce plan should, over the course of the next ten years, result in larger numbers of GPs, we need immediate action on recruitment that addresses our current shortfall, alongside retention initiatives to ensure that more existing GPs don’t leave the profession, due to workload pressures and burnout.

“As the report sets out, there is no clear proposal for alternative funding models, with many concerns and unanswered questions as to how ideas such as charging for GP visits, or other attendances, would work. We need the government to focus on the ‘big ticket’ issues in general practice and ensure that existing challenges such as workforce shortages and infrastructure challenges are addressed.”

Further information

RCGP press office: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.