Postcode lottery fear over health cuts
FEARS have been raised that patients could face a postcode lottery of GP care if doctors are forced to stick to new tough limits on hospital referrals.
Health chiefs at cash-strapped NHS Peterborough want to limit the number of hospital referrals that can be made by each city surgery, with every decision being reviewed by “buddy” doctors from other practices.
They have also set targets on the number of medicines that GPs prescribe.
This referral management initiative is one of the cornerstones of the primary care trust’s (PCT) financial recovery plan, which aims to claw back £20 million savings by the end of the financial year. It comes after it spiralled £12.8 million in the red in March.
Tony Durcan, from the Royal College of Nursing, has hit out at the limits.
He said: “There may be a postcode lottery where some doctors in one part of Peterborough may refer patients to hospital while others may not.
“Also, with prescribing targets, some GPs may say to people they can have certain drugs while others don’t.
“We still have massive concerns and very little confidence in this organisation being able to achieve very ambitious targets.”
Peterborough Local Involvement Network (LINk) vice-president Gordon Lacey also voiced his concerns at PCT board meeting yesterday.
He said: “What safeguards are there if referrals are not occurring when they should and how will we know before it’s too late?”
PCT director of public health Dr Andy Liggins gave assurances patients would not suffer. He said: “No patient who requires treatment or a referral to hospital is not going to get that. It’s not about stopping anyone going to hospital that needs to.”
Director of performance and contracts Sarah Shuttlewood added: “Some referrals are obvious ones that have to go to hospitals and in these cases, there won’t be any delay. We will also make sure that none are being inappropriately referred.”
The meeting also heard that the PCT has overspent by £1.85 million this financial year so far.
But interim finance director Lesley Mcleod said this was in line with predictions and the PCT was still predicted to be £12.7 million in the red by the end of year.
PCT contracts with the city’s hospital and mental health trusts are yet to be signed but negotiations should be complete in the month.
ASSURANCES: PCT director of public health Dr Andy Liggins.