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Reid's spurious '14-minute' claim

Referrals to cardiology services have rocketed since the introduction of the new GP contract, figures obtained by Pulse reveal. Trusts have reported rises of up to 80 per cent in referral rates since April last year.

Cardiologists said they had been swamped in work almost as soon as the contract began. One claimed it had led to people being referred 'for the wrong reasons' while another said he feared GPs would face a clampdown on referral rates.

But GPs said the figures were a sure sign the contract was working in improving the quality of patient care. The Primary Care Cardiovascular Society urged PCTs to commission specialist GP clinics to absorb the extra demand.

Nearly all hospitals able to provide figures had substantial rises in cardiology referrals.

Referrals across Liverpool increased by an average of 30 per cent and by 80 per cent in North Liverpool PCT.

Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust saw a 26 per cent increase, while there was also rises in London, Lancashire, Brighton, Norwich and, anecdotally, in Glasgow and Manchester.

Echocardiography services have come under particular pressure. Under the contract all patients with suspected heart failure must be referred for echo, but consultants have warned the pursuit of points could put patients' lives at risk (see Pulse, September 20).

Dr Adrian Brady, consultant cardiologist at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, said: 'Within a week of the contract there were 40 extra referrals for echo. It's quite understandable that GPs are referring to comply with the contract but we haven't got the resources.'

Dr Vivian Challenor, consultant cardiologist in Glou-cestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust, said: '[Patients] are being sent for the wrong reasons. The new GP contract needs specific diagnosis so we have patients who have been sat at home for 20 years with a bit of chest pain being referred even though there's nothing wrong with them.'

By Emma Wilkinson

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