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Charging to see GPs would delay diagnoses, warns Royal College of General Practitioners chief

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 03/11/2015

Charges for GP appointments would create major health inequalities across Northern Ireland, a leading doctor has warned.

Dr John O'Kelly, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said fees could cause problems in the NHS.

"There is the potential for delayed diagnosis for serious conditions, including cancer," he added.

"We certainly feel that it would not solve the underlying structural problems in the health service."

Dr George O'Neill, who has been a GP for more than 40 years, agreed that the health system needed to be restructured, but said charges would not help.

"What really needs to happen is a change in the system," he said.

"We currently have a Victorian model of health. Will more money solve that? No. It would create unnecessary bureaucracy."

The comments came as a UK-wide poll showed that 24% of respondents were willing to pay part of the cost towards seeing their family doctor.

However, the survey suggested people were more willing to contribute to other health services.

More than half (56%) of adults surveyed for the study said they believed "the NHS can't do everything" to cover all areas of healthcare in the future.

Many of them expressed a willingness towards financing their own physiotherapy (51%), chiropody (50%) and home support and rehabilitation services (45%).

But doctors still maintain that charges would not solve the underlying structural problems within the local NHS.

Pressures on GP services have been escalating, with consistent warnings that a workforce crisis is developing.

Figures show that over the past decade the number of registered patients has risen by 125,182 - from 1.8m in 2004/05 to 1.92m in 2013/14.

That works out at an average increase per GP's surgery from 4,948 to 5,474.

The poll included people from Northern Ireland and was carried out on behalf of the Everyday Health Tracker, which regularly surveys up to 2,000 UK adults.

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