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Friday, 28 May 2010

BMA hides its policy on charges for access to NHS services

From: David Hickson - campaigner for the NHS

The General Practitioners Committee of the BMA has just announced the launch of a public consultation on GP services - BMA asks the public for their views on GP access and out-of-hours care (28 May 2010).

This consultation fails to address, or invite comment on, a most controversial policy position held by the BMA as declared in its GPC GUIDANCE: USE OF 084 NUMBERS IN THE NHS.

The policy of the BMA GPC is stated to be as follows:

"calls to NHS services should incur as low a charge as possible, but that this must be balanced by the quality of communications service that the patients are accessing"

The suggestion that NHS patients should pay for access to NHS services according to the quality of the service, is a most radical proposal to revise the principles of the NHS. The point at issue is the surcharge to the benefit of the GP that is paid by patients when calling any 084 number. This is in addition to the (acceptable) charge for a normal call as set by their chosen telephone company. When I challenged Dr Richard Vautrey, Deputy Chairman of the BMA GPC, on this point in a BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme discussion, he agreed that it warranted public debate. The current consultation however makes no reference to this radical aspect of BMA policy with reference to the principles of the NHS.

This is the position from which the BMA sought unsuccessfully to oppose the introduction of a ban on use of "expensive" telephone numbers by GPs and other NHS providers. The BMA has therefore shifted its approach to this particular issue, by now claiming that the expensive 084 numbers are not more expensive. This transparent and ridiculous shift of position (which is clearly announced in the “GPC Guidance” document referred to above) has not attracted attention. There is evidence to show that this attempt to now frustrate the implementation of the ban by deceit, after unsuccessfully arguing against it by open declaration of a radical policy, is so far being seen to be effective in practice.

Ø  The Department of Health must now take firm action to prevent those charged with enforcing the principles of the NHS, as now reflected in revisions to the contracts held by GPs, from being misled by blatant misrepresentations of the truth.

Ø  Members of the public wishing to engage in the consultation should understand the position taken by the BMA on this important point and offer appropriate comment.
The many BMA members who undoubtedly oppose this policy should be aware of it and express their views.

Ø Laurence Buckman must be asked to explain this policy and to confirm exactly where the BMA stands on the question of whether NHS services should be "free at the point of need" or subject to access charges levied by providers.

These points need to be addressed in order to ensure that the ban on use of expensive telephone numbers may go ahead. Once this has been achieved, we can address the ease with which those under contract for use of 084 numbers may immediately migrate to 034 numbers, so as to restore application of the principles of the NHS without having to wait for completion of their lengthy contract term.

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