CAMPAIGNERS have demonstrated outside York Barbican against proposals by some GPs to charge patients for appointments.

The protests were staged yesterday by Defend Our NHS York and York People's Assembly when the British Medical Association Local Medical Committee's two-day conference started.

Demonstrator Graham Martin claimed charges would be counter-productive, because they could encourage people not to go to their doctor promptly, allowing their illnesses to worsen before they finally sought help. It would also end a fundamental NHS principle of care, that it was free at the point of use.

Another protester, former nurse Gwen Bardigan, said she was also protesting against creeping privatisation of the NHS, which she claimed was leading to huge pay cuts for some staff.

The conference agenda included increasing demand on GPs, current recruitment and retention issues, and the funding crisis facing GPs.

The proposal to charge for access to general practice was debated and voted on at the conference, and GPs from across the UK resoundingly rejected calls to introduce a charge.

During the debate, GPs expressed concern about the extreme funding pressures facing general practice, but agreed that patients should not be penalised because of a funding shortfall from government.

General practice is under increasing pressure due to rising demand from an ageing population with increasingly complex medical needs.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the BMA GP Committee, said: “Many GPs are frustrated and concerned about the future of general practice given that many GP practices are struggling from a combination of rising patient demand, falling funding and more work being moved from hospitals into the community.

“In this climate, it is understandable that the LMC Conference wanted to debate the need for extra funding for overstretched GP services. But introducing a charge for services would be a tax on illness, hit the most vulnerable the hardest and threaten to undermine the principle of an NHS free at the point of delivery.

"Introducing a financial transaction would undermine the trust between doctor and patient. If patients are deterred from seeing their GP due to an additional cost this could result in their illness deteriorating and costing the NHS even more.

“GPs have today sent a resounding message that charging patients is not the solution to the financial crisis facing the NHS. The BMA is committed to a health service that is free at the point of need and accessible to all and we should proud to have an NHS GP service where no one has to pay to get the treatment they need."