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PCTs to slash spending after rocketing GP referrals

By Nigel Praities

PCTs are poised to slash primary care spending after rocketing numbers of GP referrals ate up budgets in the first quarter of this financial year.

Government figures show the number of GP referrals increased by more than 350,000 in the first quarter of 2008/09 against the same period last year, an increase of 16% - with no clear reason identified for the rapid rise.

Referrals from other areas of the NHS have also increased by 8% on last year and first attendances at consultant outpatient clinics have increased to 3.6 million, a jump of 14%.

Dr Michael Dixon, a GP in Cullompton, Devon, and chair of the NHS Alliance, said increased demand came from shorter waiting times for hospital procedures, new clinical guidelines and the general disillusionment of GPs with the NHS.

‘It is part of the fall-out between the Government and the BMA. It has left a lot of GPs not bothering about other diagnostics or consulting others, thinking well let's just refer,' he said.

But Dr Dixon warned the increases were ‘sending shivers down many people's spines' and would result in PCTs going into deficit and slashing their budgets in other areas if they continued.

A spokesperson from Northamptonshire PCT, said it was already looking at makes cuts to fund the increasing hospital workload.

Richard Alsop, director of strategic development and commissioning for Northamptonshire Teaching PCT said: ‘Our plans to invest resources in community and primary care based services and prevention will need to be rethought if the required investment in acute services maintains at this level.'

Dr Tom Coffey, a GP in south London and professional executive committee chair for Wandsworth PCT, said the figures for his area had already been brought up at meetings with his PCT but they had yet to discover why the increase had occurred.

‘It does not seem to resonate with what we see on the ground. Out PCT has talked to us about the increase, but I find it hard to believe as none of us are doing any more referrals,' he said.

Dr Coffey said the increase could be due to referral data being distorted by the 18-week treatment target or the introduction of a new IT information systems.

Rising tide of GP referrals

Apr - Jun 2008 - 2,655,503
Apr - Jun 2007 - 2,306,815

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