NHS patients may be charged for braces, walking sticks and crutches

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Patients may face charges for walking sticks, neck braces and crutches if proposals by an NHS organisation are approved to charge for these previously free services.

In South Warwickshire, general practitioners have started a controversy by looking at how disabled or recovering patients may be requested to pay for the devices that they need to remain mobile.

Critics have stated that this is the absolute limit and it could lead to patients having to pay for access to core NHS services. The hardest hit in this case would be the disabled and the poor.

If this proposal is implemented, patient suffering from hernias, hip injuries, knee injuries, whiplash, fractures or those needing aid to get out of bed, would be affected.

Many patients in England already pay for hearing aids, spectacles, prescriptions and dental treatment, but basic NHS services have remained free of charge. NHS England and the Ministers have made it quite clear that they are opposed to these new charges.

The Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) Sue Lear has stated that the group was looking at ways to reduce its annual orthotic bill of £421,000. It has an annual budget of £304m which is used to commission and fund treatments for 270,000 people within its designated area.

Her presentation to 20 elected patient representatives from various GP surgeries raised questions about the feasibility of the introduction of charges. Questions that were raised related to the amount to be charged and which items would fall into this category. Sue Lear produced a list of 15 various types of devices or aids which may be charged for. These included wrist splints, spinal supports, a range of different braces, walking sticks, helmets, bed mobility aids, crutches, among others.

Many of these devices are not returned once patients have finished with them so they cannot be reused or reissued. This increases costs at a time when the NHS has experienced severe budget cuts. Patient representatives felt that charging for the devices would deter some of the patients who required the device from obtaining it.

This new proposal which was uncovered by False Economy, an anti-cuts group, is thought to be the first of its kind where NHS care has seriously considered charging for services. There have been recent reports about patients paying a subscription fee to aid the NHS. These proposals have stirred a debate about whether the NHS should discard its key principle of being free at its point of use.

The attendees at the meeting for the CCG proposal gave the idea a hostile reception. The CCG stated that it wanted to assess reactions to the self-funding method with a suggestion that at least some of the patients should pay for the device’s full cost.

Many NHS representatives have criticised this proposal as they feel that many patients who cannot afford the equipment will have to make more frequent trips to their GP. This will inevitably cost the NHS much more in GP and hospital costs.

Image credit: Florian Richter

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