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One in three foreign nationals reviewed in 'ghost patient' drive wiped from GP lists

Exclusive: As many as one in three foreign nationals is being de-registered as part of increasingly tough list-cleansing drives, far exceeding projected numbers and raising fears that genuine patients may be left without a GP.

Figures obtained by Pulse show that many more patients have been removed than anticipated as part of PCTs' drive to wipe so-called ‘ghost patients' from practice lists.

PCTs are scrambling to meet the Department of Health's target to identify and remove 2.5 million extra patients by next April.

But LMC leaders claimed the list validation exercises were removing genuine patients, and said the policy was discriminating against vulnerable patients who were unable to respond to letters or were confused by the process.

In Buckingham and Oxfordshire, 32% of foreign nationals reviewed – some 18,400 patients – were removed from practice lists in 2011/12, despite initial projections suggesting just 10% of patients would be deregistered.

NHS Surrey said it had removed more than a third of patients, including some foreign nationals, since April this year, with 363 of the 1,058 patients identified as possible ‘ghost patients' taken off lists.

In Berkshire, 26% of the foreign nationals checked were de-registered, with 10,800 patients removed.

The Thames Valley Primary Care Agency, responsible for carrying out the drive, had projected a removal rate of just 10%.

Dr Paul Roblin, chief executive of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs, said patients whose first language is not English were being de-registered, and that students who remained in the area had been knocked off lists after letters were sent to student halls where they no longer lived.

Dr Roblin said: ‘The DH sends down diktats that the local NHS has to follow, and there are unforeseen consequences.'

Dr Harry Yoxall, medical secretary of Somerset LMC, told Pulse there were concerns in his area that members of the Polish and Portuguese communities would not respond to letters sent out by the PCT: ‘The formal letter is written in quite complex and bureaucratic English.'

Dr Marine Ullah, a GP in Maidenhead, Berkshire, claimed a number of current patients had been de-registered, and two such patients had left her practice as they were angry at their GP.

‘Understandably, we're not very happy about this,' she said. ‘Patients come back in quite angry with GPs. It reflects badly on the practice.'

A spokesperson for the Thames Valley Primary Care Agency said it worked ‘closely' with GP practices ‘to ensure the right people remain on lists'.

‘Patients are written to and if they fail to respond within two months the practice has to show they are still registered and using services, or they
are removed from the list after six months,' the spokesperson said. 

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