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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Dan Bloom

NHS leaders trash Rishi Sunak's plan to fine people £10 for missing appointments

NHS, GP and doctors’ leaders today slammed Rishi Sunak’s plan to fine patients £10 for missing appointments.

The Tory leadership underdog sought to catch up with Liz Truss by pledging a crackdown on “waste” if he enters Downing Street.

He said his plan to charge patients £10 for “second or subsequent” GP or outpatient appointments they miss - after a first offence - will “get more out of the money we're putting in”.

But his announcement was blasted by the NHS Confederation, which represents hospital bosses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And Labour said the “attention-seeking gimmick” was a “dangerous thin end of the wedge” for NHS fees that would cost more to run than it raised.

NHS Confederation policy director Dr Layla McCay told the Mirror: “The administrative burden this would place on the NHS risks being considerable.

“And [it] could well far outweigh the money brought in by the fines.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Chancellor Rishi Sunak during a visit to the Kent Oncology Centre at Maidstone Hospital in Kent (PA)

Dr McCay warned the plan would not solve “fundamental and long-term issues” facing the NHS including 105,000 staff vacancies and the effect of soaring inflation.

She added: “The reasons that patients do not or cannot attend their appointments will be complex.

“Penalising patients unfairly will not solve the problem and working with local communities to address the root causes is essential.”

Rishi Sunak announced a plan to charge patients £10 for “second or subsequent” GP or outpatient appointments they miss - after a first offence (Getty Images)

Dr Gary Howsam, Vice Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "When patients miss appointments, it's frustrating… But charging for appointments is not the answer.

“It would fundamentally change the principle that the NHS is free at the point of need.

“And [it] would likely impact on our most vulnerable patients most - and it would add another layer of bureaucracy to a GP service already drowning in red tape.”

He added: “Ultimately, the bigger issue affecting patients’ ability to access GP care and services is the workload and workforce pressures family doctors and our teams are working under.”

Dr Philip Banfield, council chair of doctors’ union the British Medical Association, said Mr Sunak’s plan “would likely make matters worse”.

He added: “Charging patients for missed appointments would not only undermine the essential trust between doctor and patient, but ultimately threaten the fundamental principle that the NHS delivers free care at the point of need, for all.

“The BMA has always stood firmly against the idea of charging patients for missed appointments.

“While it is frustrating when patients do not attend, the reasons why this happens should be investigated rather than simply resorting to punishing them.

Rishi Sunak is bidding to catch up with Liz Truss in the polls to be the next Tory leader (PA)

“Financially penalising patients inevitably impacts the poorest and most vulnerable in the community.

“This may discourage them from rebooking, exacerbating already worsening health inequalities and costing the NHS more.”

The charges - in place until backlogs reduce to “manageable levels” - would be part of a wider strategy with a backlogs taskforce told to contact everyone waiting over 18 weeks in Mr Sunak’s first 100 days in office.

Two hundred Community Diagnostics Hubs would be rolled out using vacant high street shops, and bureaucracy would be cut for overseas doctors and nurses.

Rishi Sunak-backing MP Greg Hands today insisted the £10 fines “will be at the discretion of the GP”.

He told Times Radio: “If the GP believes the person has got, you know, good reason to have missed it, or is in some way sort of vulnerable, unable to regularly make appointments, that kind of thing. There will be discretion there as well.

“But it's sending a strong message that we expect people to show up for their appointments, and we expect people to do their bit to clear the NHS backlog.”

But Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: “This is a dangerous thin end of the wedge that will penalise the most vulnerable and would cost more in administration than it would raise.

“It is an attention-seeking gimmick that will do nothing to solve the worst crisis in NHS history.

“No-shows aren’t the reason that people can’t see a GP and experience record waits - 12 years of Conservative mismanagement is.”

Mr Sunak unveiled the plan in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, highlighting the fact 1 in 20 appointments are missed at GP surgeries - 15million a year.

Of those, his campaign said, 7.2million were with GPs and the rest were with other GP surgery staff such as nurses and therapists.

Almost 8million outpatient appointments (6%) were also missed in 2019/20, Mr Sunak’s campaign said.

Under the PM hopeful’s plan, a patient would be given the benefit of the doubt the first time they miss an appointment.

But for each appointment they miss after that, they would be charged £10.

The charges would be permitted in law via an amendment to the National Health Service Act 2006.

Mr Sunak told the Sunday Telegraph: “If they're not being used, then that's a waste.

“If we can change that, then we basically get more out of the money that we're putting in today. It's a good example of a Conservative approach to that problem."

Mr Sunak’s campaign said the “waste” was estimated to cost the NHS £216m a year, enough to pay the salary of 2,325 GPs.

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said Mr Sunak’s first announcement should be fair pay as nurses ballot to strike.

After nurses were offered as little as 4% while inflation tops 9%, she said: “We will be balloting our members and public support is already growing.

“The next prime minister must urgently change course. This award leaves an experienced nurse over £1,000 worse off in real-terms.

“The solution to years of underinvestment in nursing to is reverse it. A lifetime of service must never mean a lifetime of poverty.”

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