Fears patients are not being referred to hospital amid funding crisis

FEARS are mounting that a funding crisis is stopping GPs referring patients to hospital. Nigel Quinton, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden, claims the alarm follows NHS East and North Hertfordshire last week announcing a �24m de

FEARS are mounting that a funding crisis is stopping GPs referring patients to hospital.

Nigel Quinton, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden, claims the alarm follows NHS East and North Hertfordshire last week announcing a �24m deficit.

He said the primary care trust (PCT) is now seeking �28m of cuts to try to bring its finances back in order.

"We are already getting reports from residents worried that their GPs have said they cannot be referred to hospital consultants for anything other than the most urgent items," said Mr Quinton. "This is the effect of the �28m cuts. We believe GPs have been issued with a list of matters they can refer. If your illness isn't on the list, you won't get a referral until after April 2010. This is scandalous.


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"We deserve to hear what has gone so badly wrong, and an explanation as to why."

He said making "kneejerk cuts" is not the answer, and called for an urgent inquiry so "lessons can be learned from this fiasco".

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The PCT has said its financial headache is primarily due to an increase in demand for hospital services over and above its original projections and above last year's expenditure.

Responding to Mr Quinton's concerns, Dr Jane Halpin, deputy chief executive of the PCT, said: "Our work with hospitals and GPs is about patients being referred at the right time and treated in the right place. For instance, some procedures - such as tooth extractions - can usually be done safely and effectively outside of hospital. For other procedures - such as tonsils or grommets - there is a wealth of scientific evidence that states it is better to wait to see if symptoms resolve themselves before carrying out surgery. We know that patients would often prefer not to have surgery if it can be safely avoided."

Dr Halpin said the PCT is scrutinising its internal practices to ensure its own budgets are being used most efficiently, and it is also ensuring contracts with those who provide services - such as the hospital trust - are managed robustly.

"None of this is about making or planning cuts to services," said Dr Halpin. "Everyone who needs treatment will continue to receive it and they will also continue to receive treatments within the 18-week target that we work to. We are committed to taking steps to make sure our services meet the needs of the public.

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