Our illusions about the National Health Service are breaking down. We used to call it ‘the envy of the world’. Not any more. We now recognise that our health service is actually pretty poor compared with other developed countries. It has wonderful and dedicated people in it; but they are let down by a system which creaks with incompetence.


One of the old NHS principles has been that GP services, including surgery appointments and house calls must be free.

The trouble is that because GP appointments cost nothing, some people do not value them. Because there is no come-back when they abuse the system, people feel free to misuse it. In the worst cases it can mean doctors being called out in the middle of the night to see people with a headache, when taking an aspirin might have been sufficient. Sometimes peak early morning appointments are booked by people who then change their minds without having the courtesy to tell their doctor.

The National Health Service has overlooked a basic truth. When things are priced at zero, we value them at zero. We see that GPs are free, and don’t worry about the consequence of messing them around. Their time in wasted, and too many demands are placed upon them.

If people had to pay a fee to see their GP, and about £30 has been suggested, it would encourage people with minor ailments to see a chemist instead. Pharmacists are required to undertake five years of training, including a Master of Pharmacy degree course, and are fully equipped to handle minor ailments, and to recognize more serious symptoms and refer them to the doctor.

The shelves of our high street chemists are full of remedies for everything from coughs to minor backaches. The fact is that we all suffer from minor aches and pains from time to time. If we had to fork out £30 to see our GP, we might opt for self-treatment via our local chemist’s shop, and save the doctor’s skills for more serious ailments.

GPs would have more time for patients who really need them. The time with each patient would rise, giving more chance of effective treatment. Instead of the paltry few minutes it is in many practices, there would be time to permit proper diagnosis.

No one wants to stop those who really need to see their GP from making an appointment for reasons of cost. Any system has to handle this. The fee could be refunded later for those on low incomes, provided they attended the appointment.

There is an added bonus of charging up front for appointments. It would bring more money into the NHS, adding to the amount doctors have to spend on improving facilities for their patients. Above all, it would make for a better appreciation of a doctor’s services, and a better doctor-patient relationship.

This article originally appeared in the Daily Express. Alex Singleton’s website is here.