Reducing GP referrals: saving money or costing lives?
It has recently been reported that GP practices are being offered a financial incentive to reduce the number of patients being referred to hospital.
According to an investigation carried out by the doctor’s magazine Pulse, at least nine Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) were offering GP practices payments for meeting targets. One particular surgery was being offered up to £11,000 by CCGs to reduce new outpatient attendances and follow ups.
Whilst there is little doubt that a reduction in unnecessary hospital attendances would save the NHS both time and money, there is growing concern that patients could be missing out on vital care. Suspected cancer patients are also being affected by this incentive.
Dr Rosie Loftus of the charity Macmillan Cancer Support said:
‘’This is yet another sign of an NHS which is seriously overstretched and not giving GPs the resources and support they need.’’
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence said delays in spotting symptoms could be costing thousands of lives each year.
As a clinical negligence solicitor, I have dealt with a wide variety of cases where a negligent delay in diagnosis or treatment has resulted in patients suffering as a consequence. The whole point of a GP referring a patient to a specialist is because the GP is unable to diagnose or treat the particular condition and it is outside their area of expertise. Offering a financial incentive to discourage this is extremely worrying. It is likely to cause harmful medical conditions to go undiagnosed or untreated.
There is no doubt that additional funds to GP practices may improve services and benefit patients. However, this should not be done at a cost of depriving patients of specialist, and in some cases, lifesaving treatment.