In the midst of the NHS’s worst crisis, British politicians are frantically debating reforms to the health system. One idea, though it’s not a new one, is to charge for GP appointments. Ken Clarke, the Conservative peer and former health secretary, is the latest figure to suggest this, saying this week that the government “may have to look at some means of the better-off patients making some modest contribution to their treatment”.
Such a plan, however, could be politically impossible, as exclusive polling for the New Statesman by Redfield & Wilton Strategies reveals an overwhelming majority of British people do not believe they should pay to see their GP. When asked if adults should have to pay for GP appointments in Britain, 83 per cent said no, 9 per cent said yes and 8 per cent said they didn’t know.
Respondents who voted Conservative at the last general election were almost as against this idea as the average, with 80 per cent of Tory voters saying no, 11 per cent yes and 8 per cent didn’t know. (Among Labour voters 88 per cent said no, 8 per cent yes and 4 per cent didn’t know.)
The response changed slightly when people were presented with Clarke’s wording of charging “better-off” patients a “modest” fee for GP appointments and some minor procedures. On this particular wording, 46 per cent disagreed, 29 per cent agreed, 22 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed, and 4 per cent didn’t know.
Conservatives opposed the idea more than Labour supporters: 50 per cent of Tory voters disagreed, 29 per cent agreed, 19 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed, and 2 per cent didn’t know. Among those who voted Labour in 2019, 47 per cent disagreed, 31 per cent agreed, 22 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed, and 1 per cent didn’t know.
When asked how much it might be appropriate to charge for a GP appointment or minor procedure, 55 per cent of British voters surveyed said nothing: zero pounds. Going up in ten-pound increments, the next most popular answer was £1-10, chosen by 21 per cent of respondents. No one believed GP visits or minor procedures should cost more than £60. Again, Conservative voters followed the average pattern: 53 per cent said the appropriate charge was zero pounds, compared with 56 per cent of Labour voters.
With the British public so opposed to GP fees, and Conservatives in particular against charging better-off patients for GP appointments and minor procedures, these ideas appear to be politically toxic.
Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled a weighted sample of 1,500 eligible voters in Great Britain on 11 January 2023 for the New Statesman.