ONE in five patients at the Accident & Emergency department at Taunton’s Musgrove Park Hospital should not go there, it has been claimed.

But, despite widespread abuse of the system, Somerset doctors oppose introducing charges for A&E visitors.

A poll of 800 GPs suggested one in three supported charging £5 or £10 for some visits to deter unnecessary attendances.

A Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group spokesman, who claimed 20% of A&E visits were unnecessary, said the organisation was opposed to charging.

He said: “It’s a fundamental principle of the NHS that services are ‘free at the point of access’.

“The survey of GPs indicated ‘one-third’ (of a sample of 800 out of a possible 40,000 GPs in England) believed a £10 charge would deter people from attending A&E departments with only minor ailments or injury.

“Such a charge is very likely to be a deterrent but this might risk the poorest and most disadvantaged delaying seeking treatment when they have a serious illness or injury.”

The spokesman said patients unable to wait for a GP appointment should call 111 for advice as A&E is for people with “the most serious injury or illness”.

Dr Harry Yoxall, secretary of the Somerset Local Medical Committee, said: “It’s frustrating when people go to A&E inappropriately but the majority of GPs don’t think it’s a good move to charge patients going to A&E because you don’t want to stop people who are seriously ill or have had an accident getting the care they need.

“The principle of the NHS is that it’s publically-funded and free at the point of delivery.”

Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne said health care costs are rising sharply and ideas for raising money for the NHS are always welcome.

He said: “There are always concerns that some people are using A&E when they don’t have a genuine emergency in order to get fast-track treatment.

“Even so, I’d be nervous about introducing this idea – the real danger would be putting off people who need urgent attention and that would clearly be unacceptable.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Charging patients who use A&E goes against the founding principles of the NHS and there are no plans to introduce fees.”

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