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Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Health Services Minister, Simon Burns, challenged on NHS GP charges

Please see my open message to Simon Burns, Minister of State (Health Services), published at this link.

This enables the issue of GPs using expensive telephone numbers to be seen in the context of the government's intentions for health service provision in England.

In a recent debate in parliament, Mr Burns made the bizarre assertion that NHS GPs are allowed to charge patients for access to NHS services.

He accused me, and others, of alleging that they were charging more than they "should".

I most certainly alleged that nearly 1,300 surgeries are listing on NHS Choices as having 084 telephone numbers, which means that the cost of their telephone system is subsidised.

This subsidy is generally provided by their patients and other callers, who pay their respective telephone companies more to call these numbers than they would to make an equivalent call to a geographic number. This fact places the GPs in breach of their NHS contracts.

If Mr Burns and his colleagues succeed in introducing a "patient focussed" health service to replace the NHS in England, then it will be natural for patients to expect to get "value for money" from their healthcare providers, as they exercise choice as consumers.

For the time being however we have a "National" Health Service, funded by taxation, and contracted providers are not permitted to make any charge whatsoever, as services are accessed "free at the point of need". I am fighting to defend and retain this.

Mr Burns also dismissed my evidence because it identified only individual GP surgeries, as shown on NHS Choices, rather than the practices which operate the surgeries.

This petty-minded wriggling approach provides a most clear indication that, despite some warm words, Burns is simply not interested in whether or not the principles of the NHS are being upheld.

I hope that those who are concerned about these matters will recognise this precise, concrete evidence of the way in which Health Ministers are currently approaching their duties.

Please contact me for further information and comment.

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