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NHS Changes: Are Patients Destined to Become Medical Tourists

Will the poor and the elderly lose out in a changed NHS?

A leading GP and chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee thinks so. He says it will turn patients into 'internal medical tourists' shopping around to find the surgery offering their preferred treatment, something poorer, sicker and older patients will be unable to do.

At present patients can only register with a local GP. In the future they will be able to shop around. A desperate patient who has read the marketing for a supposed wonder-drug may be refused it by one GP because it has little proven benefit. But if another GP will prescribe it she may go elsewhere.

The model is that of the market: patients choosing the GP who offers what they want. But there are problems here. Do we want our health system driven by patient demand or scientific evidence?

Whilst the young, mobile and internet-savvy have the skills and the freedom to shop around, many people will not. Those who cannot afford to travel or whose long hours of work make it difficult, the elderly and the most ill will miss out.

Our health system is already far from perfect. Every day I deal with people who have suffered injury and disability because of mistakes made by doctors. Some of the most troubling are those for the patients too frail to question what happens to them or lacking the skills to understand the advice they are given. However we have a lot to be proud of in the NHS.

One of the great principles on which it is based is that care is available to all. The danger of the market is that it favours the strong and the wealthy again the weak and the poor. If the proposed reforms improve the care patients are given they will of course be a good thing. But the danger is that life becomes harder for the most vulnerable.

Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.