Whether patients should cough up a fee to visit their GP is a proposal being debated by nurses during their annual conference in Liverpool this week.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will try to establish where the union sits with the notion that the financing of family doctors should be buoyed by the introduction of a charge.
Nurses put forward the motion with the view that the NHS finances are not bottomless, despite the union traditionally maintaining that services should be free at the point of delivery.
Senior nurse, Andy McGovern, said the issue needs to be addressed because “the money just isn’t there.”
He told the Daily Mail: “We want to get people talking about how they pay for NHS services going forward. The research [for GP visits] suggests anything from 57p to £10.”
Doctors had a similar debate earlier this year at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) local medical committees conference.
RCN chief executive 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.”
Mr Carter said that it was time to have tough and controversial conversations on the future of the NHS, calling on political parties to make clear their “long-term vision” in the lead up to the next General Election.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said it was not behind the proposals: “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.”
Additional reporting by agencies