South of the River – Paying for healthcare


Compass-SouthThe National Health Service is being privatised before our eyes. The latest idea is that we should pay to visit our GP.

The free-at-the-point-of-delivery principle of the NHS has been compromised for decades – prescriptions charges, opticians and dental charges, but encouraging patients not to see their GP sounds like a recipe for disaster.

I grew up in the optimistic 1960s when killer diseases were being wiped out. Diphtheria, rickets and smallpox were moving to the history syllabus. Improved housing and public health, together with mass immunisation campaigns had finished them off. I remember the shock of a colleague’s daughter being diagnosed with tuberculosis in the 1980s. I thought it had been eradicated, but poverty was there to bring it back.

Tuberculosis, whilst not common, is now present in every inner city community. I was shocked again when my daughter didn’t go through the adolescent right of passage that is the BCG injection. Surely we need the immunisation programme now more than we did in the 70s when I queued up amongst rumours about how big the needle was.

I’ve come into some money this week. Rather like Monopoly, a savings plan has matured. It’s allowed me to pay back the money for my last dentist bill to the household account and I’ve booked an eye test.

The dentist bill came about from a rather large (free) NHS filling from my youth finally crumbled. I’ve got a fantastic new filling, precision milled ceramic by computer from 3-D images of the cavity. It cost me £300. I’m a private patient because my NHS registration lapsed when I missed too many check ups because there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with my teeth. When I tried to reregister there were no NHS dentists to sign up with.

I started wearing glasses about ten years ago. At first just reading glasses, but then I was told I really needed varifocals. They’re great, but they set me back a few quid. A drop in income has meant that I haven’t been back for an eye test since. I could afford the test, but not necessarily the new glasses.

So, charging for GP appointments. Whenever I go to the doctors, there’s always a notice about how many people haven’t attended their appointment. This has always puzzled me because it’s very difficult to get an appointment. You have to get on the phone at 8:30 and keep hitting redial until you finally get through. Even then you can only make an appointment for that day, so you hardly have time to forget about it.

Adding an extra hurdle of £25 for the visit may, or may not reduce the number of missed appointments, but it will certainly deter people from seeing a doctor.

I don’t think people like Jeremy Hunt, the health minister, understand how much £25 is to plebs like us. I doubt he uses the NHS (except for A&E of course). I remember hearing that arch right winger Roger Scruton on Radio 4 in the 1990s. He was debating dental charges and suggesting that NHS patients should pay something, rather than get free treatment. “We already do!” I (and probably thousands across the country) shouted at the radio. John Humphrys didn’t act like a rottweiller for once – perhaps he didn’t know either. These people are completely isolated from the real world.

So the return of Victorian diseases and fewer people seeing their doctor – it’s a heady mix.

I was struck by a letter in the Guardian yesterday that quoted this story from the pre-NHS days:

And sometimes he (the doctor) would shout at my mother for not having come before, like the time we had to wait for my sister’s sore throat to turn unmistakably into diphtheria before she was pushed off in a pram to his surgery. “Good God woman, why didn’t you bring this child days ago?” And then even he read the silence as the half-crown came out. “Damn the money” he said as he slipped it into his pocket.

The point is that treatment of diseases will be delayed and will have a chance to spread. Areas like south Leeds will suffer first, where is the greatest number of people delaying their treatment (not to mention worse health to start with). But even plebs like us travel, to the city centre, to the railway and coach stations. So there will be plenty of opportunities to spread these diseases to even the most affluent areas.

Jeremy MortonThe point about a universal health service is that it benefits everyone – that’s why we all need to fight now to protect it before it’s completely broken up and privatised.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

6 Replies to “South of the River – Paying for healthcare”

  1. Disgusting what this government is doing to the health service.Back door privatisation of many services for their “chums” in the private sector to raid the best pickings from.Once undone-we’ll never get it back.

  2. My prescriptions cost a fortune and they are regular and I have to have them to control my rheumatism. If I had to pay to see my GP I would be in trouble. I’m at high risk of Inge too s and have to get it dealt with as meds cause complications. It would hit my pocket hard and take from things we can just manage to pay now. Bad idea, the result will be that people won’t use the service and either the number going to A&amp E will rise and their time will be spent dealing with GP problems, or they’ll be a lot of poorly people around!

  3. Bad news but privatisation of our NHS is alive and kicking under this TORY government. Money comes before wellbeing and make the poor pay could be their slogans. Google Keep our NHS Public for their campaign against the piecemeal privatisation of this once great British institution.

  4. Prostate Awareness week a couple of months back, generated a lot of publicity for this men only cancer, The actor Neil Stuke (fab) is a figurehead for the Charity and appeared on The Wright Stuff, This Morning and The Evening News that week. The message he promoted consistently was that men as a group were reluctant to visit the doctor. Hence prostate cancer had managed to get a better grip on the male population than it might have, if caught at an early stage. He was questioned further as to what could be done to encourage more men to visit the doctor when they first felt a niggle. I wonder if his answer would have been ‘Well how about if we charge £25 a visit’?

  5. Cameron and his pals are deliberately undermining and attacking the NHS to damage public confidence in it and the confidence of doctors, nurses and health workers to defend it against the circling private sector vultures. Even as the privatisation disaster that is the 111 service unravels, firms like Virgin, G4S (the one that messed up stewarding the Olympics, overcharged on tagging, and killed a deportee named Jimmy Mubenga), Serco and Circle are engaged in a bidding war for £5bn of NHS work covering everything from mental health, to running hospitals and GP clinics.

    That’s why the protest at the Tory Party conference in Manchester on 29th September is so important. The TUC has thrown its weight behind it and there will be transport from every city, town (and even villages). If each of us brings a friend or family member, it will be huge and it will shake the Coalition to their rotten core.

    My friend, who works in a mental health team in Castleford, has agreed with his workmates, that they’ll fill a coach over to Manchester. We should be able to manage a coach from South Leeds? If you want to come and/or organise a coach, text or phone 07582 675347 with your name and contact details.

  6. I don’t need to worry about my GP surgery charging for an appointment. They no longer do a ring up and book an appointment. You tell the receptionist why you need an appointment and a doctor or nurse rings you back to have a phone consultation.

    Only on the say so of staff (when they phone back) can you book an appointment. I don’t see why I should tell a receptionist why I need an appointment.

    Helen Pattinson is a dentist taking on new NHS patients. Based at Hunslet, near the library and Morrison’s.

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