Politicians are desperately grappling with out of control costs in the state funded National Health Service. When it was established in the 1940s the government assumed universal healthcare would eradicate disease and costs would fall.
As a result they put little thought into long-term funding, and deliberately overpaid doctors to get them to agree to work for the NHS. The Labour politician who founded the NHS, Aneurin Bevan, famous said of doctors “we stuffed their mouths with gold”.
Today anyone can book an appointment with a taxpayer funded General Practitioner (GP) doctor without giving any reason. The GPs themselves earn an average of $150,000 a year, and ten percent earn more than the Prime Minister's $222,000 salary.
They are required to diagnose simple problems, write prescriptions for basic drugs and refer all complex cases to specialists. The patient is not penalized if they fail to turn up to either the GP or the specialist. Under this new proposal that would not change.
Mr Hunt's plan is to effectively shame time wasters into stopping, although he did say he was “open” to plans for charging. Something the Prime Minister's office later stamped on, saying they would never charge.
Hunt's ideas may sound meek but the problem is very serious with the cost of failure to attend appointments put at $1.56bn (£1bn) a year.
On the BBC he said: “We are very stretched for resources, doctors and nurses work incredibly hard and we're going to have a million more over-70s by the end of this Parliament. If we're going to square the circle and have a fantastic NHS, despite all those pressures, we have to take personal responsibility about how we use NHS resources.
"I don't have a problem in principle with charging people for missed appointments, in practical terms it is difficult to do. But I have taken a step towards that this week by announcing that when people do miss an appointment they will be told how much that will cost the NHS as a first step."
The Heath Secretary is also grappling with the bizarre problem of bored and lonely people turning up for unnecessary treatments to get 'out of the house'. Those responsible are mainly over the age of 65 and may account for as many as 30 million visits to GPs every year, with appointments costing the taxpayer up to $150 a time.
As many as one in ten pensioners are believed to have attended appointments due to boredom or loneliness.
The move to reduce wasted appointments comes in the same week Hunt announced plans to print the cost of drugs on the packaging when it is distributed through the prescription scheme.
Under the scheme everyone gets a huge discount on the medicine, courtesy of the taxpayer, as they are charged only $13 no matter what the cost of the drugs. Many groups such as children get the drugs entirely free of charge.
The figure and the words "funded by the UK taxpayer" will be added to all packs costing more than $31 in England. The move is hoped to reduce the estimated $467m annual cost of people simply throwing drugs away rather than using them because they attach no value to them.
The total cost of the National Health Service is around $150bn a year, around $3000 a year for every man, woman and child in the country. It has some of the worst survival rates for diseases like cancer in Europe.