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GPs are offered £30 'bribe' for private centre referral

GPs are being offered a £30-per-patient 'bung' to refer patients to an underused independent sector treatment centre, writes Ian Cameron.

Ashton, Leigh and Wigan PCT is offering the payment for every patient referred to the Greater Manchester Surgical Centre, run by South African firm Netcare.

It claims the payment is in recognition of 'extra work required to assess a patient's suitability to attend' for ENT or general surgery.

GPs must assess whether a patient is over 18; not pregnant; has no history of DVT or pulmonary embolism; has no bleeding disorders, malignancy or MRSA and is not on warfarin.

But GPs said they would do all this for a normal referral to an NHS hospital.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said: 'Some may say it's a bribe. It shows some PCTs are desperate to try to ensure promised volumes of work are provided.'

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chair, was more categoric. He said: 'It is a bung.'

Figures from Ashton, Leigh and Wigan PCT showed only 243 patients had been treated at the centre up to February this year, compared with an expected level of 711. Earlier figures from September last year show the PCT had paid out almost £500,000 to that point for operations not carried out.

Under the first wave of NHS contracts with independent sector treatment centres, providers were paid for a set number of procedures whether or not they were carried out.

Wigan LMC chair Dr Stephen Fox said he feared GPs would be deemed to be breaking GMC good medical practice guidelines by accepting the payment.

He said: 'I'm unhappy a GP could be questioned by the GMC as to whether this could be seen as an inducement payment.'

GMC guidelines state doctors must not ask for or accept any inducement, gift or hospitality which may affect or be seen to affect their judgment.

A spokeswoman for the GMC said it was 'concerned the standards may have been breached'.

A spokesman for the PCT said the money was 'not a payment to make a referral ­ clinical colleagues on the PEC were very clear on this matter'.

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