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January 7, 2014 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson

The announcement of plans to charge £10 to visit A&E has caused real concern for many people and with good reason. The idea of having to pay to go to hospital follows changes by the Tory-Lib Dem government to the GP contract and has worrying echoes of what happens in the United States where many people cannot afford proper health care. 

It will also bring back memories for older people of what happened before our NHS was created by the Labour government in 1947. 

Before the NHS, you had to pay to see the doctor and my mother used to tell me how her parents put money on the mantelpiece ready in case someone fell sick and needed medical help. You will no doubt have heard similar stories from your own parents or grandparents and like me, you will not want to see an end to the NHS as we know it. 

The idea to charge to visit A&E follows stories of GPs being paid large amounts of overtime to work at weekends in A&E. The suggestion has been made that charging to go to A&E would cut down on the number of people visiting who don’t really need to. But the big concern would be if you really needed to go to hospital you could be put off going because of the cost. 

This would be a very real worry for many millions of people who face financial hardship whether in work, out of work or retired.

The crisis at A&E has been caused by cuts to frontline staff both in hospitals and in community services. Those cuts happened as a result of the £3billion re-organisation of the NHS which the Conservatives and Lib Dems pushed through despite warnings from the medical profession of the consequences. Vast sums of money were spent on the re-organisation instead of on patient care and we can see the results now with the crisis at A&E.

The government should be making sure that people receive the care and support they need to stay at home in the first place. And if an elderly relative ends up in hospital, you want to know that they will have the support needed to return home as soon as possible.

If you think that the idea of charging to visit A&E cannot happen in this country, remember what happens when you go to visit the dentist. As one constituent reminded me, you have to pay or you don’t get to see the dentist. 

Much dental care is in the private sector with a limited number of NHS dentists. If it can happen with a trip to the dentist, it can happen for a visit to A&E. We know the Tories support the privatisation of the health service and their reforms have moved your NHS in that direction since 2010 with the full support of the Lib Dems

The idea of charging to visit A&E follows a similar idea to charge people for visiting their family doctor and I will be doing all I can to prevent the Tories and their Lib Dem partners in government from bringing in payment for treatment at either A&E or at your GP.



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