Nurses in the U.K. are to debate whether local doctors should start charging up to £10 ($17) for currently free of charge appointments as the country's health care system faces a funding black hole.
The Royal College of Nursing, (RCN) which has traditionally backed the concept of a free National Health Service (NHS) is now arguing that the service's finances are not "infinite".
The fee for doctors, known as General Practitioners or GPs, which the group will discuss at its annual conference on Wednesday will prevent patients with minor symptoms from wasting appointments. The move could ultimately save the NHS as much as £1.2 billion a year, the RCN said.
The proposal comes as reports suggest there could be as much as a £2 billion funding gap for the health service in England next year according to the BBC.
U.K. patients have had access to free healthcare service at delivery since after the second world war, and currently only pay for prescriptions, but in recent years the service has faced funding reforms and budget shortfalls.
Meanwhile, an independent health research body, the Commonwealth Fund, has declared the U.K.'s health care system as the best in the world, when compared with 11 other nations, including Australia, Canada and the U.S. which spend far more.
The study found the U.S. health care system to be the most expensive in the world and ranked it last on access, efficiency and health outcomes, using detailed data from patients, doctors and the World Health Organisation.
"Most troubling, the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries. The United Kingdom ranks first overall, scoring highest on quality, access and efficiency," the report found, adding that the NHS lagged on "health outcomes".