Magazine article Public Finance

Referral Centres 'Might Ration NHS Care'

Magazine article Public Finance

Referral Centres 'Might Ration NHS Care'

Article excerpt

NHS referral management centres are being used to ration care and prolong waiting times, the British Medical Association said this week.

Traditionally, patients are referred to hospital consultants by their GP directly, but referral management centres are increasingly acting as go-betweens, deciding where best to send patients.

In most cases, this will mean arranging an appointment with a consultant, but some patients may be referred to another health care professional, such as a GP with a special interest or a physiotherapist.

BMA GP leader Hamish Meldrum said referral management helped some patients receive the most appropriate care.

But he added: 'In other places it seems the main intention is to cut costs, either by trying to limit referrals or by delaying them. NHS trusts are telling GPs that nonurgent cases will not be treated until they have reached the maximum waiting time permitted within government targets. This is not acceptable and is potentially harmful to patients' health.'

The Department of Health has admitted that one of the centres' key roles is to curb demand for acute hospital services. The BMA alleged this amounted to rationing. …

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