BMJ investigation finds GPs being forced to ration access to hospital care

July 10, 2013

Clinical commissioning groups in England have begun implementing new restrictions on referrals to secondary care as they strive to manage their resources amid increasing financial restraints, reveals a BMJ investigation today.

Some CCGs have tightened the thresholds for access to "low priority" surgery such as hernia and joint problems, while others have introduced new systems to restrict the flow of patients being sent to hospital.

The BMJ's investigation also found that only four of England's 211 new GP led organisations, which assumed statutory responsibility for commissioning around £60bn of NHS care on 1 April 2013, have adopted new guidelines to help widen access to IVF treatment. This has led to in availability across England.

A few CCGs have removed referral restrictions and are relying on better communication between primary and secondary care doctors to drive down costs, but today's investigation has reopened the debate about the role doctors are playing in rationing care in the new NHS - and how this with their role as patient advocates.

It also raises the question of whether the government, in collaboration with the and the public, should draw up a list of core services for the NHS to avoid a postcode lottery.

Jerry Luke, a GP in Crawley, West Sussex, recently resigned as clinical director of NHS Crawley CCG partly because of his concerns over rationing. He believes GPs have been placed in an invidious position and warned that CCGs could start running out of money later this year.

CCG leaders told the BMJ that all changes and new policies on whether to refer patients were primarily driven by and best practice and not by finance. NHS England also said it had a process in place to ensure that CCGs delivered their "statutory duties in relation to quality of services."

But the Royal College of Surgeons has argued that many of the procedures deemed of low value have been proved to be effective in preventing complications later in patients' lives.

The BMJ's investigation found numerous examples of CCGs tightening criteria for referral. For example, NHS Mid Essex CCG ratified a host of changes in March 2013 including a new policy for restricting hernia surgery.

Elsewhere, NHS North East Hampshire and Farnham CCG have added a new restriction for treatment of skin lesions, while five other CCGs in Hampshire have altered criteria for bunions and ear grommets.

Eight CCGs across northwest London added new restrictions for nasal surgery and a new general cosmetic policy, but also removed restrictions for several procedures including asymptomatic gall stones, caesarean section for non-medical reasons, and erectile dysfunction drug treatment.

Other CCGs have implemented new referral gateways to try to restrict the number of patients being sent to hospital. A joint system put in place by NHS Chorley and Ribble CCG and NHS Greater Preston CCG will process all GP referrals, and is projected to save almost £50,000 across the two areas. And a new gateway covering all musculoskeletal referrals across two CCGs in Staffordshire is targeting reductions of 209 cases a year in NHS Stafford and Surrounds CCG (designed to save £214,203) and 198 in NHS Cannock Chase CCG (designed to save £209 300).

Some doctors believe that it should be up to NHS England to set national thresholds to ensure consistency. And last month, BMA members called for a debate with the public and the health professions about how the health service they want in the future could be delivered "in a climate of shrinking resources."

But NHS England said CCGs were responsible for explaining the reasons for their commissioning decisions, and said it would not mediate in cases where local clinicians disagreed on whether a treatment was cost effective.

Explore further: New health legislation will have 'severe implications' for population data, warn experts

More information:

Related Stories

New health legislation will have 'severe implications' for population data, warn experts

April 26, 2012
The Health and Social Care Act 2012 will have "severe implications" for collecting and monitoring data about the health needs of the population in England, warn experts today.

Survival of England's national health service questioned

June 24, 2013
(HealthDay)—Recent criticism of England's National Health Service (NHS) has called its survival into question, according to a perspective piece published online June 19 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Novel system proposed for accountable cancer care

April 30, 2013
(HealthDay)—A novel structural and payment-reform system is proposed to foster accountable cancer care, according to a viewpoint piece published online April 29 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

New research demonstrates an increase in NHS productivity

July 3, 2013
A new study by researchers at the Centre for Health Economics, University of York, reveals the productivity of the NHS in England increased by 3.2 per cent in the first year of the Coalition administration.

Britain unveils plans to charge migrants for healthcare (Update)

July 3, 2013
Britain announced plans on Wednesday to charge migrants hundreds of pounds a year to access its state-run National Health Service (NHS), in a bid to clamp down on so-called health tourism.

UK health reforms will be the end of free care for all, warn experts

March 8, 2012
Entitlement to free health services will be curtailed by the Health and Social Care Bill currently before parliament, warn experts today.

Recommended for you

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.