Widdecombe: I pay to see my doctor

THE SHADOW Health secretary, Ann Widdecombe, said yesterday she pays to see her own GP, prompting government allegations that the Tories would privatise family doctor services.

"If people want to pay their GP they should be allowed to," she said. "One of the things that gets me in the health service is that under this Government there is the view that there is something immoral in paying for your own health.

"There is nothing immoral in it," she told a Westminster press lunch. "I pay to see my GP. I choose to do that. Nobody has compelled me but if I choose to do it, that is a perfectly reasonable decision."

Ms Widdecombe strongly denied she wanted to privatise the NHS, and the Tories would stick to the commitment to increase NHS spending in real terms year on year. She said the Tories would not charge for treatment that was already free on the NHS, but she left open the prospect of charging for new treatments, such as Viagra, the anti-impotence drug.

Sources close to Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, said Labour would use her remarks as a clear warning the Tories were in favour of privatising the NHS, in spite of her denials. "The cat is out of the bag - the Tories tried to privatise the NHS when they were in government. It appears they would do so now."

The incoming Labour Government looked at the possibility of charging a small fee, such as pounds 5 per visit, to see the GP, as part of a thorough review of NHS charges, but ruled out the idea last year.

The BMA said it was rare for patients to choose to pay their GPs. "There are some GPs - not very many - who are in private practice and some who have private patients but this is not a big part of the NHS.

"There are people who are philosophically disposed towards private care who choose to pay but it is a small part of the health service."

Patients who chose to pay usually did so separately for each private consultation. Some busy ones pay to see GPs at the time they choose, rather than wait in the NHS surgery.

There are moves by private insurance companies to set up groups of GPs operating as private family doctors in return for fixed fees.

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