Health Service: Tory peer calls for pounds 5 fee to visit GP

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PATIENTS SHOULD be charged pounds 5 to visit their GP and a new "health tax" should be levied to help to foot the bill for NHS staff wages and better patient care, a Tory peer urged last night.

Opening a Lords debate on the health service, Baroness Gardner of Parkes, a former dentist, said the Government should use its large Commons majority to introduce funding changes - perhaps even a new system.

She told peers: "This Government has a large majority and it should be brave enough to make the changes necessary to provide adequate funding to ensure a strong base for the NHS in the 21st century, either by charges or by a separate health tax or by moving to an entirely new basis for funding health care, such as the successful Australian system."

She suggested pounds 5 a visit would not seem unreasonable but Lady Gardner stressed: "My views differ from official Conservative Party policy."

Government sources claimed later: "The Tory front bench, the Tory back bench and Tory think-tanks are engaged in a barely hidden agenda to prepare the NHS for privatisation. The cat's out of the bag."

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