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Hospitals are delaying operations and removing patients from waiting lists to help PCTs claw back multi-million pound deficits.

A letter from Harrow PCT to GPs states that patients sent

for outpatient appointments at local hospitals will only be seen at 10-13 weeks and elective surgery will be delayed until the sixth month.

The timings are just within Government targets. By delaying treatment, some costs can be shunted into next year's

budgets.

GPs are also advised to cut emergency referrals and not

to refer to a one-stop hernia clinic.

Dr Ken Walton, PEC chair at Harrow PCT, and author of the letter, said the PCTs' deficit of £8-£12 million had left it with no choice.

Dr Walton said: 'We are overspent and this means, at times, we have to do things which lessen patient services.'

But Dr John Justice, a GP in Harrow, said the move was just delaying problems until next year.

He said: 'Hospitals will have to operate on all of the

people who have been delayed plus the new patients being referred. That will cause huge problems.

'If the PCT is under financial pressure again next year then there will be even less money to support general practice yet again.'

The Guardian reported similar measures being implemented in Staffordshire and west London.

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