Downing Street has slapped down Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt after he opened up the prospect of the NHS charging patients for missed appointments.
Mr Hunt said he was open to the idea "in principle", hinting that the move could follow his announcement that absent patients will be told how much they cost the NHS by failing to turn up.
He suggested the main obstacle to charging for missed appointments was the fact it would be difficult to implement "in practical terms".
However the Prime Minister's spokeswoman was quick to dismiss the idea, telling reporters at Westminster that the government had "no intention to charge people if they miss appointments" and said Mr Hunt was "clear" about government policy on the issue.
"They both are clear that there is no intention to charge," the spokeswoman said. "He [Mr Hunt] 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."
It is the second health minister Number 10 has overruled since the election after Life sciences minister George Freeman became the first member of the government to hint that a sugar tax could be in the offing. He said food companies had a responsibility to cut down on the amount of sugar in their products and suggested that failure to do so could lead to penalties.
A Number 10 spokesman was again quick to dismiss the idea, insisting the government had no plans to introduce a tax. "I don't believe that the right approach here is to put sugar taxes on hard-working people to increase the weight and cost of their shopping baskets," he added.
Mr Hunt made his remarks on BBC One's Question Time as he discussed his announcement that the NHS will start telling absent patients how much they cost the NHS every time they fail to turn up to an appointment.
He said it was the "first step" in tackling the significant cost of missed appointments to the NHS, which he said stood at more than £900 million a year.
The NHS will also start telling patients the price of every drug prescribed to them that costs the NHS more than £20 as part of the drive to reduce waste. It is also designed to help patients complete courses of medicine.
Asked whether he backed the idea of charging patients for missed NHS appointments on BBC One's Question Time, Mr Hunt said: "We are very stretched for resources, doctors and nurses work incredibly hard and we're going to have a million more over-70s by the end of this Parliament.
"If we're going to square the circle and have a fantastic NHS, despite all those pressures, we have to take personal responsibility about how we use NHS resources.
"I don't have a problem in principle with charging people for missed appointments, in practical terms it is 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 will cost the NHS as a first step."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The Health Secretary set out this week that missed NHS appointments cost the service nearly £1 billion – money which could otherwise be funding thousands more doctors and nurses.
“The NHS will remain free at the point of use under this Government, but we want people to be told the cost of missing appointments to encourage everyone to play their part in keeping the NHS sustainable.”
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat