A third of GPs are in favour of making people pay if they make unnecessary visits to accident and emergency departments.

A new survey asked GPs whether people should pay £5 or £10 for each visit, with the money being refunded if their attendance was found to be justified.

The poll was carried out by the Press Association for Doctors.net.uk, an online network for doctors, and involved canvassing 800 GPs across England.

Dr Tim Ringrose, chief executive of Doctors.net.uk, said: "It may be a clear departure from the traditional NHS vision, but many doctors are now saying that radical action has to be taken to reverse the 'free at the point of abuse' culture that is a key contributor to the current emergency care crisis in some areas."

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, spokesperson for the RCGP and a GP in Lichfield, said: "The overwhelming majority of GPs still respect the founding principle of the NHS: that healthcare should be provided free at the point of need. Charging patients for the use of emergency departments would put us on the slippery slope towards the Americanisation of healthcare - where only those who can afford it get the care and attention they need.

"Doctors have a duty to provide healthcare to patients regardless of their ability to pay. Patients seek healthcare when they are at their most vulnerable and if they attend A&E, it is usually because they don't know where else to turn.

"Emergency departments are really struggling but the way to solve the crisis is to adequately fund general practice, so that family doctors can provide more care for patients in the community.

"GPs conduct 90% of the NHS contacts for just 8.39% of the NHS budget. If general practice was better funded many people who are seen in emergency departments could be seen by a local GP."