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Angry GPs demand study to refute referrals slur

By Craig Kenny

GPs are demanding a strategic health authority fund research to refute an acute trust's charge that rising numbers of inappropriate GP referrals have contributed

to its multi-million pound deficit.

Steve Webster, financial director of North Bristol NHS Trust, which is £44 million in debt, claimed at a recent Avon LMC meeting that referrals from GPs in two PCTs were 46 per cent higher than national reference rates.

The figure is well above a 5 per cent increase estimated by the three trusts in the area.

Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire strategic health authority has so far refused to fund research into the issue. It said the three PCTs, which are struggling to cope with the acute trust's debts, would have to pay for any work.

Steve Mercer, chief executive of Avon LMC, said GPs did not consider themselves inappropriate referrers and just wanted to find out reasons for the increase.

He added the high rates may be due to double counting of consultant episodes at the hospital trust or a lack of viable referral alternatives for GPs, such as GPs with special interests.

'Many referrals may be genuinely inappropriate, but the fact that the hospital has taken them suggests to us that they are not,' he said. 'We need a logical scientific programme rather than just bandying words around and blaming each other. If a matter involving at least three trusts and the worst financial crisis in the NHS is not a strategic issue, one wonders what is.'

A spokeswoman for Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire SHA said PCTs would be best placed to decide whether research would 'add to the evidence base'.

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