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Hospitals bar named-consultant referrals via Choose and Book

By Steve Nowottny

Three-quarters of hospital trusts are defying Department of Health guidance and refusing to allow GPs to book appointments with named consultants via Choose and Book, a Pulse investigation reveals.

It comes as fresh problems with the controversial online booking programme emerged this week, with the launch of the Government's flagship ‘free choice' initiative hit by a major setback as hundreds of patients were sent incorrect information.

Pulse's survey of 72 hospital trusts under the Freedom of Information Act revealed half are not allowing GPs to refer to a named consultant in any specialty, while a further 28% only allow named-consultant referrals in certain specialties.

Several trusts admitted that the ban on named-consultant referrals had been put in place in a bid to meet the 18-week referral-to-treatment target. A spokesperson for Ealing Hospital NHS Trust said: ‘In order to maximise our availability and to reduce false queues, none of our specialties have a named-consultant basis.'

The data also show hospitals are aggressively pushing ahead with plans to make Choose and Book compulsory, with one in four trusts planning to phase out paper referrals altogether.

Both policies explicitly contradict Department of Health and Connecting for Health guidance on how Choose and Book should be deployed.

Dr Stephen Miller, medical director of Choose and Book, said: ‘We encourage use of Choose and Book without encouraging PCTs to make it mandatory.'

He said Connecting for Health was focusing on engaging secondary care consultants to make them aware of the named consultant facility.'

But he added: ‘We recognise the message isn't getting through.'

Dr Andrew Mimnagh, chair of Sefton LMC, said his local hospital refused to take named-consultant referrals in some specialties. ‘Named consultant is the gold standard for a Choose and Book referral,' he said. ‘It's not about competency, it's about the desire to seek excellence for the patient. Not all GPs are equal and not all consultants are equal.'

Meanwhile, the department's ‘free choice' initiative was dealt a major blow after it emerged that GPs who wish to refer patients elsewhere in the country still have to do so manually.

The launch of Choose and Book version 4.0, which will enable free choice referrals, was due last week but was postponed after a glitch with the existing software meant at least 200 patients received incorrect appointment information.

Dr Stephen Miller, medical director of Choose and Book Dr Stephen Miller, medical director of Choose and Book How trusts abuse Choose and Book

NAMED CLINICIAN REFERRALS
49% - now have no services with named clinicians
28% - have only some services with named clinicans
23% - have all services offering named clinicians

PHASING OUT PAPER REFERRALS
1% - have already phased out all paper referrlas
26% - actively planning or considering phasing out paper referrals
17% - eventually aiming to phase out paper referrals
56% - no current plans to phase them out

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