The King’s Fund suggestion last week that patients should be charged for GP (General Practitioner) visits has stirred up some controversy.
It came on top of a report published by the think tank Reform, co-authored by former health minister Lord Warner, which said that such a charge could raise £2bn a year.
All this was in a week when NHS dental charges rose to £18.50 (band one), £50.50 (band two) and £219 (band three).
In addition the NHS prescription charge rose by 20 pence from £7.85 to £8.05 for each drug supplied.
Those opposed to the suggestion of a charge for a GP visit cite the mantra that the NHS should be 'free at the point of delivery'.
They say that some people, often the poorest and most in need, will be put off seeing their GP.
Well I have news for them, the NHS has not been 'free at the point of delivery' since 1952, when prescription and dental charges were introduced.
This will not be news to dentists of course, but perhaps the public should be reminded of the fact.
The largest group who pedal this ‘free NHS’ myth are the politicians, who happily say that they support the NHS by using it for themselves and their families.
Unsurprisingly they don’t claim to support their local ‘bog-standard’ comprehensive by sending their children there.
A trip to your local GP is not free if you have to fork out nearly £25 for a prescription with three different drugs on it.
Those of us of pensionable age, who often have a number of different conditions, do not have to pay.
But under the King’s Fund proposals, that exemption could go, in return for more free social care in our dotage.
Of course some patients would think twice about making a GP appointment if it cost them money.
We have seen in dentistry that they think twice about having a crown when told it costs £219.
The NHS is in the midst of a grave and ongoing financial crisis.
Put bluntly it is broke.
In addition it must now absorb many social care costs, so something must be done.
What we need is a level playing field.
It should not be that I am charged nothing to have my blood pressure measured by my GP (or practice nurse), but I have to pay to have my periodontal pockets measured by a hygienist.
That in essence is the question our politicians must answer.