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GP referrals still increasing despite millions spent to curb rise

By Nigel Praities

The rise in GP referrals that has thrown PCTs into financial turmoil has continued into a second year, despite the millions being thrown at referral management schemes, new figures reveal.

Department of Health statistics show GP referrals went up by 6% year on year in the period between April and June – a rise on top even of the 16% first-quarter jump that occurred last year, and which first brought the issue to national attention.

The rate of increase may be slowing but Dr Jonny Marshall, chair of the National Association of Primary Care, warned moves to shift more work into primary care and reduce consultant-to-consultant referrals could further push referrals up.

‘We are entering an era of increasing economic challenge so we will have to reduce use of acute services and provide more services in the community. But we cannot afford to return work to GPs to find that it simply returns to an acute setting a few months later. Referral rates cannot be seen in isolation.'

The rise in referrals over the last year has been something of a mystery, with Pulse revealing part of the increase might be an artefact caused by double counting of referrals.

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs and a GP in New Milton, Hampshire, said the focus on referrals had encouraged GPs to find other ways to manage patients rather than in hospital.

‘The rise is multi-factorial and practice-based commissioning is playing a part. In our scheme in Hampshire, just sitting and discussing referrals as an educational exercise has changed things.'

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