A FAMILY doctors' representative from Salisbury has proposed charging patients for some GP services.

Helena McKeown told a medical conference that many practices are struggling to recruit doctors, forcing them to cut back on what they can offer.

Years of under-funding by government have caused “immense damage”, she said.

If GPs had a distinct source of funding it would allow them to operate outside of political control and build up their numbers.

Dr McKeown, who is also the Wiltshire councillor for St Edmund and Milford ward, was speaking at a British Medical Association conference on Thursday.

She was acting in her role of vice-chairman of Wiltshire Local Medical Committee, which was one of 11 from around the UK to submit motions on possible “hypothecated charging” for general practice to resolve the staffing crisis.

She told the conference: "The time has come to lead our profession in putting a true price on general practice.

"Currently the government both commissions and controls completely the funding of general practice, so they dictate both what they want, and what they'll pay for, and indeed how much they'll pay for it.

"We are left rationing care in our consulting rooms.

"A fee for some services, to some people, would sustain us while we build up a workforce who want to join us and make general practice more attractive than retirement or general practice abroad.”

However, a former chairman of the GP committee, Dr Laurence Buckman, said: “You do not control demand by making patients pay, you then get survival of the richest, not treatment of the sickest.

"Patients would see this as the final nail in the coffin for our NHS, and GPs would be to blame." The conference voted against the motion but agreed on one which said that "general practice is unsustainable in its current format" and asked the government to define what services can and cannot be accessed in the NHS.