FEARS of creeping NHS privatisation grew yesterday after a secret cost-cutting plan to slash the number of hospital referrals was leaked.
The NHS England memo tells health trusts to review hospital referrals each week to reduce the number of patients by up to 30 per cent.
From next week GPs must seek approval from a panel of doctors in order to refer patients to hospital. If a panel disagrees with a doctor’s request, the patient is refused a hospital appointment.
Specialist GP magazine Pulse said the memo promised “significant additional funding” for cash-strapped clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).”
An NHS England spokesman said: “Clinical peer reviews are a simple way for GPs to support each other and help patients get the best care, from the right person, at the right time without having to make unnecessary trips to hospital.
“More than half of CCGs have already implemented some of peer review system, with Luton seeing an 8 per cent drop in hospital referrals, and the latest NHS England guidance will help ensure best practice is shared to remaining local commissioners.”
However this referral process was criticised earlier this year. Research by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that NHS bodies were paying millions of pounds to privateers to keep patients out of hospital.
The BMJ investigation sent freedom of information requests to all 211 CCGs in England. Of the 184 that replied, 32 per cent said they had some sort of referral management schemes in place.
And 32 per cent of these are run by private companies.
Sixty-nine per cent of CCGs running schemes provided details of operation costs revealing that £57 million has been spent since April 2013.
The expansion of peer review referral schemes rang alarm bells among NHS activists. Keep Our NHS Public spokesman Alan Taman stressed that there needed to be “cast-iron safeguards” to stop the scheme from being used to push privatisation of the NHS through the back door.
“This is yet another undermining of medical judgement so the NHS can continue to be starved of funds,” he continued.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they were paid a bonus after denying a certain percentage of people the treatment their own GP is saying they need.