No charges for missed GP appointments, says Cameron

Prime minister dismisses Jeremy Hunt suggestion that patients may face charges to encourage greater responsibility for use of NHS resources

Downing Street has dismissed a suggestion by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that patients who miss NHS appointments could be charged to ensure they take greater responsibility for the use of limited resources.

A spokeswoman for David Cameron said there was “no intention” to charge people if they missed appointments, after Hunt said he was interested in the idea in principle even though it could be difficult to enforce.

She said the prime minister had not spoken to Hunt personally about the issue but “both are clear that there is no intention to charge”.

In an appearance on BBC1’s Question Time, Hunt had said the government was taking a first step towards introducing greater responsibility for the use of resources by introducing measures to ensure that patients who miss appointments are told how much NHS money they have wasted. He also signalled his potential interest in charging for missed appointments.

“We are very stretched for resources,” he said. “Doctors and nurses work incredibly hard and we are going to have a million more over-70s by the end of this parliament. If we are going to square the circle and have a fantastic NHS, despite all those pressures, then we have to take personal responsibility for the way that we use NHS resources.

“I don’t actually have a problem in principle with the idea of charging people for missed appointments. I think in practical terms it could be difficult to do. But I have taken a step towards that this week by announcing that when people do miss an appointment they will be told how much that has cost the NHS as a first step.”

Jeremy Hunt on Question Time

It later emerged that Hunt had misspoken about patients being told how much money their missed appointment had cost: no announcement had been made and ministers and officials at the Department of Health were in fact still working on the plan.

Cameron’s spokeswoman then made clear: “There is no intention to charge people if they miss appointments.

“[The health secretary] talked about whether or not, in principle, he could see this idea. But the point that he was making is that when you have pressures on the NHS and challenges facing them then it’s important that we get people to take personal responsibility for the way that we use NHS resources.

“The PM is clear that he is committed to free healthcare for everyone, wherever you are and whenever you need it, and has no intention of charging for missed GP appointments.”

Hunt was asked about the issue after the government set out plans to print the price of some medicines on the side of packets to underline the cost of NHS drugs.

He said: “All medicines costing over £20, we’ll put the price on the outside of the medicine pack and it will say ‘Paid for by the UK taxpayer’ so that people understand that. What I really hope it will do is make sure that they actually take the medicines.

“I think it was Hippocrates who said: ‘The best doctor for your condition is yourself’. I think if people knew how much the medicines were [costing] they might be more diligent in taking the medicines on time.”

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