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NHS Direct report delay attacked

The Government's GPs with special interests scheme can reduce waiting times and cut referrals to secondary care by up to 80 per cent, two audits suggest.

The results contradict earlier claims that specialist GPs would merely generate more work by coping with unmet demand.

And they will heap further pressure on PCTs to improve funding and payments for specialist GPs, with the Government giving trusts carte blanche to press ahead with recruitment.

Dr Graham Archard, chair of the RCGP's clinical and special projects network, said specialist GPs would be seen as an 'economic' solution to funding changes in the NHS.

Patients waited seven to 10 weeks less for specialist GPs in ENT than for appointments in secondary care, delegates heard at a recent conference on GP specialists in London.

Dr Hwa Lon-Liu, a GP in Horsham, West Sussex, who specialises in ENT, found that 86.5 per cent of patients could be managed wholly in primary care.

And GPs with a special interest in dermatology successfully cut referrals for non-melanoma skin cancer by 80 per cent, according to a second audit, presented at the British Association of Dermatologists annual meeting in Belfast last week.

Study co-author Dr Dafydd Roberts, a consultant dermatologist at Singleton Hospital, Swansea, said: 'I'm very happy with the results. It has allowed patients to be seen quickly and closer to home.'

Both audits also found that patient satisfaction with specialist GPs was high.

An earlier review of 15 pilot sites had called the effectiveness of GPs with special interests into question, after finding they had little impact on referrals to secondary care (Pulse, May 17).

And with the Government's initial target of 1,000 specialist GPs already passed, doctors had expressed concerns that PCTs might be reluctant to fund further posts.

Dr Archard added: 'A GP with a special interest is as good as a GP can get in a specialty. Inevitably there are cases they can't manage. So these figures of 80 to 85 per cent are pretty impressive. The consultants I have spoken to have, without exception, stated this is a useful addition to our

armoury.'

By Rob Finch

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