Belfast Telegraph

Fines for missed GP appointments suggested to tackle Northern Ireland's health crisis

Charges for missed GP appointments are among a number of suggestions.
Charges for missed GP appointments are among a number of suggestions.

Fines for missed GP appointments are one of a number of suggestions made to help tackle the financial crisis in Northern Ireland's health service.

The suggestion came from members of the public in Fermanagh 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 Chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland Dr Tom Black warned that the next decade would be "incredibly difficult" for the health service.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show on Tuesday 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 alll."

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.

Concerns: GP George O’Neill
Concerns: GP George O’Neill

"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 have to attend for very good reasons are covered. Most of these parking schemes are farmed out to private companies who appear to be making the profit, not the hospital," Dr O'Neill said. 

Business 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 and 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," Mr Shivers said.

"That then has a knock on affect where people than have to wait more time to get an appointment."

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