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Hunt ‘has sympathy’ with charging for missed appointments

No plans to charge patients, but they must know what they are costing the NHS

Louise Prime

Friday, 03 July 2015

Jeremy Hunt has sympathy with the idea of charging patients for missed NHS appointments but has no plans to make this happen, he revealed on BBC TV’s Question Time programme last night. However, he said that patients who miss appointments will be told how much they have cost the NHS.

The health secretary said earlier this week that about 12 million or more missed appointments are estimated to cost the NHS in England alone, almost £1bn every year – including £162m for missed GP appointments and £750m for missed hospital appointments – and he insisted: “People who use our services need to know that in the end they pay the price for this waste”, including unused prescription medicines.

Last night he explained his ideas further. In response to a question from a member of the Question Time audience in Grays, Essex, about the wisdom of charging for missed appointments, and to another audience member’s comment about the impact of missed appointments on the length of time that other patients had to wait for an appointment, Mr Hunt said: “We are very stretched for resources, doctors and nurses work incredibly hard, and we’re going to have a million more over-70s by the end of this parliament. If we’re going to square the circle and have a fantastic NHS despite all those pressures, then we have to take personal responsibility for the way that we use NHS resources.

“I don’t actually have a problem in principle with the idea of charging people for missed appointments. I think in practical terms it could be difficult to do. But I've taken a step towards that this week by announcing that when people do miss an appointment, they will be told how much that’s cost the NHS, as a first step.”

He went on: “We do need the public’s help if we’re going to tackle these challenges … The public want to help, but on this particular thing, the missed appointments, we can do a lot better.”

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, who is standing for leadership of his party, responded: “I don’t think it [charging] would be a very good idea. I think it would be very hard to collect it. There are lots of reasons people miss appointments – some because they are lazy and can’t be bothered, sometimes because they couldn’t get there, all kinds of things.” But he said that where the GP agrees the appointment with the patient, texts, retexts and perhaps even phones reminders of appointments, then it’s fine that if they miss that appointment they ‘really get it in the neck from everybody there’.

Senior editor of The Economist Anne McElvoy said she favoured ‘incentivising people’ rather than punishing them, but added that in a system that is free at the point of delivery, a nominal charge could help raise people’s awareness of the cost of wasted doctors’ and nurses’ time or medicines.

Picture credit: Helga Esteb - Shutterstock.com

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