Why do GPs charge fees? Your questions answered
Isn’t the NHS supposed to be free?
The National Health Service provides most health care to most people free of charge, but there are exceptions: Prescriptions charges have existed since 1951, and there are a number of other services for which fees are charged. Sometimes the charge is made to cover some of the cost of treatment, for example dental fees. IN other cases it is because the service is not covered by the NHS for example, medical reports for insurance companies, claim forms for referral to private care and other letters and forms which require the doctor to review the patient’s medical records.
Surely the doctor is being paid anyway?
It is important to understand that many GPs are not employed by the NHS. They are self-employed and they have to cover their costs – staff, building, heating, lighting, etc – in the same way as any small business. The NHS covers these costs for NHS work, but not for non-NHS work, the fees charges by GPs contribute towards their costs.
What is covered by the NHS and what is not?
The Government’s contract with GPs covers medical services to NHS patients. IN recent years, however, more and more organisations have been involving doctors in a whole range of non-medical work. Sometimes the only reason that GPs are asked is because they are in a position of trust in the community, or because an insurance company or employer wants to ensure that information provided to them is true and accurate.
Examples of non-NHS services for which GPs can charge their own NHS patients (this list is not exhaustive):
- Certain travel vaccinations
- Private medical insurance reports
- Private medical reports
- Holiday cancellation claim forms
- Referral for private care forms
- Letter requested by, or on behalf of, the patient (To whom it may concern)
Examples of non-NHS services for which GPs can charge other institutions:
- Medical reports for an insurance company
- Some reports for the DSS/Benefits agency/DVLA
- Examinations of local authority employees
Why does it sometimes take my GP a long time to complete my form?
Time spent completing forms and preparing reports takes the GP away from the medical care of his or her patients. Most GPs have a very heavy workload and paperwork takes up an increasing amount of their time.
I only need the doctor’s signature – what is the problem?
When a doctor signs a certificate or completes a report, it is a condition of remaining on the Medical Register that they only sign what they know to be true.
In order to complete even the simplest of forms, therefore, the doctor might have to check the patient’s entire medical record. Carelessness or an inaccurate report can have serious consequences for the doctors with the General Medical Council (the doctors’ regulatory body) or even the Police.
It is true that the BMA sets fees for non-NHS work?
The BMA suggests fees for non-NHS work which is not covered under a GP’s NHS contract. To help GPS set their own professional fees. However, these fees are guidelines only, not recommendations, and a doctor is not obliged to charge the rates suggested.
What will I be charged?
We recommend that GPs tell patients in advance if they will be charges, and what the fee will be.
Please ask at Reception for further details.
What can I do to help?
- Not all documents need a signature by a doctor. You can ask another person in a position of trust to sign such documents free of charge.
- If you have several forms requiring completion, present them all at once and ask if they can be completed at the same time to speed up the process.
- Do not expect your GP to process forms overnight.