GP rejects public's idea of fining no-show patients to fund the NHS
Fines for missed GP appointments could help tackle the financial crisis in Northern Ireland's health service, it has been suggested.
The proposal from members of the public in Fermanagh was made to the Western Local Commissioning Group at a series of community meetings.
Other suggestions include the return of prescription charges and higher car parking fees at hospitals.
Long waiting lists and a shortage of doctors and other health staff has put increased pressure on Northern Ireland's health system.
In January, the chairman of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, Dr Tom Black (inset), warned that the next decade would be "incredibly difficult" for the health service.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show yesterday, Belfast GP Dr George O'Neill said that charging people for missed appointments was not the way forward.
"It sounds attractive, it seems a great idea, but it would be an administrative nightmare. Who would police it? Who would enforce it? There are many potential reasons for non-attendance," he said.
"It's also the most vulnerable patients who miss appointments, people with chaotic lifestyles, it's younger people, it's the poor, it's older people. I think it's not the solution at all."
Dr O'Neill acknowledged that it was often quite difficult for patients to get through to the GP by phone to cancel appointments.
"People may have mental health problems, they may have responsibilities as a carer or they may be dependent on a carer," he said.
"It's a very challenging and different area and in my view it's against the ethos of the health service, which is universal, paid out of taxation and free at the point of need."
The Belfast GP said he was also "totally against" higher car parking charges at hospitals.
"Unless they have systems in place to ensure that those who have to attend for very good reasons are cov ered," Dr O'Neill said. "Most of these parking schemes are farmed out to private companies who appear to be making the profit, not the hospital."
Businessman and former Conservative Party Assembly candidate Frank Shivers said that dentists managed to successfully charge for missed appointments.
"We should be looking at all avenues for the NHS to make additional money," he said.
"For me this is about somebody that rings up their GP, who isn't sick all the time, and the GP says, 'It's going to be seven days before you can see somebody'.
"So they go to their chemist and they get a cough medicine and they're fixed in two to three days and they don't bother ringing up and cancelling that appointment.
"That then has a knock-on affect where people then have to wait more time to get an appointment."
Editorial, Page 20