GP referrals down by 4.7%

September 20, 2011

On 14/9/11, Mike Broad reported that DoH statistics suggest that GP referrals are down 4.7% this year. These referrals had shown a 3.5% increase at the same stage last year.

The data also shows that first outpatient attendances have also declined (by 2.7% compared to the same period last year), and there has been a slow down in the growth of elective admissions.

Professor Norman Williams, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “These data provide further evidence that rationing by stealth is occurring across the NHS. Such a steep reduction in the number of referrals by GPs suggests that patients are being given limited access to specialist clinical advice and could be missing out on treatments. If correct this is extremely concerning for surgeons across the NHS.

“Stopping referrals is only storing up problems for the future – a time-bomb which will end up costing the NHS and taxpayer more in the long-term. The rise in waiting times for orthopaedic surgery is an indicator that demand for surgery is not reducing and that the issue of rationing needs to be addressed – it will not go away.”

GPs in England referred about 3.6 million patients for a first hospital consultation between April and July, according to the data.

The BMA agreed that access to healthcare was being restricted.

“The NHS is under a lot of pressure to do less, for example through referral management initiatives, which seem to be on the increase. These may save money but for every lost referral there is a patient who is not getting diagnosed or treated, and a hospital that is more likely to encounter financial problems,” a BMA spokesman said.

However, the government said the stats indicated that the NHS was becoming more preventative.

A spokesperson said: “We would expect to see this trend as the NHS helps prevent more people becoming unwell and provides more services in the community, closer to patients’ homes. Alongside more day-case surgery, this is a clear sign that the NHS is working more effectively for patients and more efficiently for taxpayers.”