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Private centres 'fail to cut referrals'

By Christian Duffin

Privately-run clinical assessment and treatment centres (CATs) have failed to reduce outpatient referrals for rheumatology, according to a formal evaluation of their costs and benefits by leading academics.

CATs were introduced to relieve pressure on hospitals and often tie in PCTs to long-term contracts.

Researchers examined data from a single inner-London secondary care rheumatology unit before and after the 2008 introduction of CATS in the capital and found that referrals rose substantially after the introduction of CATs.

During the autumn of 2007 there were 207 new and 1005 follow-up patients per month, but in the same period in 2010 referrals rose to 265 and 1069, representing rises of 28% and 6% respectively.

The researchers called for the Government to launch a formal evaluation of the impact of CATs on secondary care referrals.

Study leader Professor David Scott, head of rheumatology at King's College Hospital, London, said: ‘The introduction of CATs has not reduced rheumatology workload, which appears to have increased.

'This rise suggests a major unmet need. In order for the future care of musculoskeletal patients to be optimised, a formal evaluation of the costs and benefits of CATs is needed.'

The research was presented at the British Society for Rheumatology annual conference in Brighton this week.

Rheumatoid arthritis

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