MORE than half of GPs believe patients should pay to see their doctors, a survey has found.
Family doctors in Scotland already earn more than £89,000 and those south of the Border are paid even more.
But many said charging fees of up to £25 a time for routine visits were the only way of managing their workload and curbing rising patient demand.
The fact that health professionals at the sharp end of the NHS want to introduce charges is a serious blow to the principle that care should be available free at the point of need.
The survey by Pulse magazine found 51 per cent of family doctors polled would support charging for GP appointments, while 36 per cent were opposed.
The mood has changed dramatically since September last year when a similar survey found just 34 per cent of GPs backing fees. The magazine said the switch of view suggested many GPs were ready to consider drastic solutions to reduce their growing workload.
Pulse editor Steve Nowottny said the survey had uncovered a frustrated profession.
He said: “If GPs are backing this, it is likely they are doing so reluctantly. They are seeing patients every day who perhaps they don’t need to see or who could be dealt with elsewhere in the health service, so they believe a small fee would discourage patients from attending unless they really needed to.
“From what GPs have been telling us, what this really represents is not that they necessarily want to charge patients – most GPs are very committed to the NHS being free at the point of delivery. But there is a real feeling that patient demand is becoming unmanageable at the same time as GP workload has gone up.”
Figures for 2011-12 show average pay for GPs was £89,300 in Scotland and £107,700 in England.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA GP committee, said: “Charging patients to visit their GP would be a damaging and backward step that would undermine the very principles on which the NHS was founded. I would also be concerned that trust between patients and their GPs would be undermined.”