Family doctors should start charging patients for GP services, says a Wiltshire medic.

Making certain patients pay a fee for some services would "emphasise the value" of GPs, the British Medical Association's (BMA) local medical committees conference was told.

Dr Helena McKeown, a Salisbury GP who is also a Liberal Democrat councillor on Wiltshire Council, told delegates that many general practices are struggling to recruit family doctors and charges would help to "build up a workforce".

And GPs creating their own source of funding would mean they could operate outside of political control, the conference heard.

Presenting a motion calling for the BMA's general practitioners committee to "explore national charging for general practice services with the UK governments", she said that years of under-funding for general practice has caused "immense damage".

She said that practices are failing to recruit new GPs which forces them to reduce the services that they offer.

"The time has come to lead our profession in putting a true price on general practice," she said.

"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.

"If we, the cornerstone of the NHS, is to remain firm then money must be committed to pay for general practice.

"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.

"A fixed fee, for some services, for some patients, will emphasise our value. Dedicated funding for general practice will assist practices to take on new GPs.

"If we had funding for GP services we could truly work independently of political control and truly focus on our patients' welfare."

But the motion was shot down from a number of leading medics including the former chairman of the BMA's GP committee Dr Laurence Buckman.

Dr Buckman said: "This motion links unsustainable general practice with charging patients and is therefore mistaken as well as dangerous.

"Why do the proposers come to the conclusion that charging patients will influence demand management? If you want to control demand, manage that.

You do not control demand by making patients pay, you then get survival of the richest, not treatment of the sickest."

He added that the introduction of fees would "appall most of the public and the profession".

"Patients would see this as the final nail in the coffin for our NHS, and GPs would be to blame," he said.

"We haven't worked to create our NHS so it would be privatised by ourselves or harm the poor or the sick who would inevitably present later.

"This is an unethical, dangerous, disingenuous and rotten motion."

The conference voted against the motion but agreed on one which said that "general practice is unsustainable in its current format".