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GPs warned: don't get the receptionist to do Choose and Book

By Ian Quinn

GPs who get their receptionists or secretaries to handle patient referrals under the Choose and Book system have been targeted by new guidance from the Department of Health.

It says GPs should ‘initiate and accept patient referrals' with only administrative matters to be dealt with by non-clinical staff.

It also attacks PCTs who try to make Choose and Book mandatory or use it as a way to manipulate, or restict referrals.

The new ground-rules also came with a frank admission from the Department of Health that it got its tactics majorly wrong when previously concentrating on ramping up pressure on GPs to use Choose and Book, even though the national DES has now been dropped, rather than encouraging them by selling its benefits.

The man leading the strategy says the new guidance was the result of a damning BMA report on the continuing problems plaguing Chose and Book but also a string of exclusive stories by Pulse, in its Common Sense on IT Campaign, which has revealed major cracks in the system.

Dr Stephen Miller, national medical director for Choose and Book, said: ‘We're doing this in part in response to the BMA report earlier in the year but also in response to the issues Pulse has been highlighting.'

On GPs who delegate Choose and Book to their staff, he said: ‘There are some GPs who understandably think that this is something that they are not trained to do and that is not part of their job. What we need them to understand is that it should only take one or two minutes on top of a consultation and they will probably make one or two hospital referrals a day, which means it's a very small amount of extra work.'

The BMA report, released in January, found Choose and Book referral to be unreliable, slow and 'frustrating' for doctors, who faced consistent system crashes and painfully slow software.

Pulse has been campaigning for changes to the system for the past three years, with a string of exclusives including the revelation that many trusts were forcing GPs to make all referrals through the system.

Dr Miller added: ‘Mistakes have been made in the strategy. Perhaps sometimes it was too much stick and not enough carrot. This new guidance is about trying to tell GPs just how effective Choose and Book can be when it is used as it was originally intended.'

GPC member Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a member of the BMA's Working Party on NHS IT, said: ‘We welcome the fact that the experiences of clinicians have been taken on board. It is crucial that trusts and PCTs meet the requirements set out in this document so that clinicians are appropriately supported.'

Too many receptionists are being left to do Choose and Book says guidance

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