Burden on GPs needs to be cut but not by splurging more cash

Morning View
Morning View

Of the many problems facing the National Health Service, GP appointments are near the top of the list.

Patients, often elderly, are dismayed by long waits to get a slot to see their family doctor.

The reasons for the delays are complex and varied, like many other issues facing the health service.

One thing that can be said confidently is that GPs, while clearly under pressure, are not lacking in reward – their average pay is around £100,000 a year.

Their pensions, like all public sector pensions, are still very generous, despite modest reforms.

Doctors are properly recognised and remunerated by the NHS, as they should be given that physicians are some of the most skilled professionals.

Even so, it is clear that GPs are under significant and unsustainable pressure. Their union, the British Medical Association, is now suggesting that appointments should be lengthened from a typical 10 minutes to 15.

This is a reasonable goal but it could add further to overall NHS costs and lengthen waiting times.

One possibility is to charge modestly for GP visits, perhaps £5 a visit. This would be understandably unpopular and might be a step too far for the general public.

But we do need to get some people to take visits to their GP more seriously – perhaps fining those who miss free appointments and perhaps limiting the number of free appointments per year for those patients who do not have serious medical conditions.

In Northern Ireland, Stormont also needs to revise the populist policy of free prescriptions, which has merely increased the demand for scripts and added to hospital costs.

And we also need to rationalise hospital provision, and that means all the main parties agreeing that certain units might have to close or merge so services can be concentrated on a small number of big, world class hospitals.