Millions of patients would die if charges were introduced for GP visits, according to members of the Royal College of Nursing.
They voted overwhelmingly against a controversial resolution proposing such charges at the RCN’s annual congress in Liverpool this morning.
In one of the most passionate debates at the conference so far, 91.77% of congress voted against the resolution, 8.23% voted for and there were nine abstentions.
The wording of the resolution was: “That this meeting of RCN Congress believes a fixed fee should be charged for GP appointments.”
It was proposed by Andrew McGovern, from the RCN Inner North East London Branch.
He said: “I know this will be tough to debate” and “I don’t suppose this will be a popular motion”.
However, he said he proposed the resolution because GPs were revealing non-attendance rates were soaring, with one doctor saying 14 patients did not show up for an appointment.
In its evidence supporting the resolution, the branch quoted research by the think-tank Reform, which estimated that the introduction of a £10 fee for GP appointments in England would equate to £1.2bn increase in funding for the NHS.
It was the most popular debate of the week, with nurses clamouring to have their views heard. There were 63 members in the queue to speak at one point, and speaking time was reduced to one minute each.
RCN members overwhelmingly spoke in favour of keeping the NHS free-at-the –point-of-use.
Queen’s nurse Heather Henry said introducing charges would create much greater health inequalities.
“I am shaking with horror at this resolution,” she told congress. “If we charge, people will present later with more symptoms.”
Most nurses felt that this would penalise the poorer people in our society, a point picked up by Dave Dawes, a member of the RCN’s North West Regional Board.
He said it was “easier to get tickets to Glastonbury than it is to get to see your GP”, but said charges for NHS services was not something that people in this country wanted to see.
“We do have a system of paying for NHS services,” he said. “It’s called taxation.”
The Times newspaper had carried a story ahead of the debate suggesting nurses would vote in favour of the resolution.
It drew criticism by nurses on social media website Twitter for suggesting that nurses were in support of it before the debate had even been held.
The Daily Mail ran a similar story in which health secretary Jeremy Hunt was quoted as ruling the move out.
None of the UK governments are currently seeking to introduce GP charges, and the idea is strongly opposed by the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs.
But RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “The future funding of the NHS is shrouded in uncertainty and we need clear direction from our politicians about the way ahead so that clinicians and commissioners can plan for the future.
“As the general election approaches, the public need to know where the parties stand on this vital issue.”
He added:“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.”