The UK’s largest nursing union has overwhelmingly voted against plans to introduce £10 charges every time someone goes to see their GP, in what bosses described as an affirmation of the belief the NHS should be free at point of delivery.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) met at their annual conference in Liverpool to debate a motion, put forward by nurses themselves, which warned that is was time to think about “where [healthcare] resources will come from” in the future.
As well as providing extra revenues for the NHS, it has been argued that charging for GP consultations would “emphasise the value” of such a service, cut down on unnecessary surgery visits and tackle the issue of missed appointments.
But RCN members said the proposed motion left them “shaking with horror”, and it was shot down with 91 per cent of delegates voting against.
Presenting the resolution, which if accepted would have likely been rubber-stamped as official RCN policy, north-east London branch representative Andy McGovern said: “The NHS needs more resources and the question has to be asked, where will these resources come from?
“At some point in the future, regardless of which UK country we live in, there will have to be a choice between increased taxation or paying for public services like health that we have hither to expected by right.”
But speaking against the motion, Dave Dawes from the Manchester central branch of the RCN said: “We don't need to imagine some hypothetical world where people look in their pockets, see how much money they have got and decide whether or not they can see their GP.
“We used to live in that country, we decided we didn't want to live there any more so we invented the NHS - free at the point of delivery.”
Commenting on the result of the vote, RCN's chief executive and general secretary Dr Peter Carter said: “Charging patients for GP visits is a controversial issue - one that goes to the heart of what the NHS is and should be.
“Today, nurses and health care assistants have reaffirmed their passionate belief that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery.
“As the General Election approaches, the public need to know where the parties stand on this vital issue.
“Nurses are passionate about protecting the health service and its founding principles but they know that it faces challenges, that its finances are finite and so they will continue to address the difficult questions.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are absolutely clear that the NHS should be free at the point of use, and we will not charge for GP appointments.”