NHS patients could face paying a fee of £8.50 for calling on the services for an out-of-hours doctor, if proposals unveiled by the NHS Confederation are realised.
The plans from NHS Confederation, the membership body for all organisations that commission and provide NHS services, have been met with dismay from those who argue that they would undermine a fundamental principle of the state healthcare service that it is 'free at point of use'.
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Under the plans, which aim to reduce the cost of the services, patients may also be charged for watching TV on their ward or for meals, in a bid to alleviate the pressure on the NHS’s finances.
Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "The NHS is facing severe pressure on its finances. We are coming to a critical juncture and need to have a frank discussion about the road ahead.
"This is a crucial time to show our commitment to improving the way we work and how we involve the public in decisions about their care."
Conversely, the organisation’s own briefing paper suggests the plans may not raise much capital. "The NHS might raise private income by introducing or extending other charges applied to patients while in hospital – for example, for access to food or television. However," it adds, "the amount that might be raised from these charges, above the costs for providing the service, is probably not significant."
The NHS Confederation went on to argue that the NHS needed to work to manage resources so that they were sustainable and improve their outcomes.
However, the chief executive of the Patients Association argued that patients should not be expected to meet the costs of overhauling the NHS.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Katherine Murphy said: "Some of these proposals amount to what would effectively be a 'patients' tax'.
"It would be absolutely unacceptable for patients to foot bill for reform through new charges."
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