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Nurses debate 'pay to see GP' plan

Leading nurses are planning to debate whether GPs should start charging patients for appointments.

The Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) annual conference in Liverpool will discuss whether the union backs the idea of charging people a fee to see their family doctors.

Traditionally the RCN has stood behind the belief that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery. But nurses have put forward the motion, saying that NHS finances are "not infinite ".

An RCN spokesman said that only when there is clarity over how much money the health service will have in the future will health officials be able to properly plan what the NHS will look like in the future.

Recently doctors debated the same issue.

Making certain patients pay a fee for some services would "emphasise the value" of GPs, the British Medical Association's (BMA) local medical committees conference was told in May.

But the proposal was shot down from a number of leading medics including the former chairman of the BMA's GP committee Dr Laurence Buckman, who said it would lead to: "survival of the richest, not treatment of the sickest."

RCN chief executive and general secretary Dr Peter Carter said: "Nurses care passionately about the NHS and are not afraid to have difficult debates about its future.

"This week we've made it clear that the way to deal with the financial problems the NHS faces is not to attack the pay of dedicated staff who are propping the service up.

"But nurses also acknowledge that the health service faces enormous challenges.

"GP charging is a controversial topic and one that goes to the heart of the debate about what the NHS is and should be. It's a brave debate to have and an important one.

"The political parties need to follow our lead and make it clear now, as we head towards a General Election, what their policies are on future NHS funding.

"There has been smoke and mirrors for too long and services, staff and patients have suffered from a lack of clarity about the direction of this most British of institutions.

"Now is the time to end the guessing game and start talking about viable solutions and a clear long term vision for the NHS.

"Nurses are stepping up to the plate and having difficult but honest and important discussions. It's time for our politicians to do the same. There is too much at stake for them not to do so. "

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are absolutely clear that the NHS should be free at the point of use, and we will not charge for GP appointments.

"We know GPs are under pressure, which is why we're cutting GP targets by more than a third to free up more time with patients, and are increasing trainees so that GP numbers continue to grow faster than the population."

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