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Practices advertise private treatments as NHS cuts services

Exclusive A number of GPs in some parts of the country are advertising the availability of private services where care has been rationed locally, amid mounting concern that NHS cuts are placing practices in an ‘impossible' position.

Among GP organisations to have offered patients the opportunity to pay for treatments withdrawn from the NHS is Assura Minerva LLP, a partnership between Assura Medical and 27 GP practices in Bath and north-east Somerset.

A practice in York sparked controversy last week after writing to around 30 of its patients to tell them the NHS no longer offered minor skin surgery, and alerting them to private treatment options including the practice's own private minor surgery clinic. GPs are not allowed to privately provide their own registered patients services that are available anywhere on the NHS, even if they have been rationed locally – but some GPs have questioned whether the existing rules make sense.

Pulse has established that several GP practices and organisations have used their websites to alert patients to the availability of private services where care has been cut from the NHS.

Assura Minerva LLP used its website last week to tell patients ‘the NHS will no longer fund minor surgery not considered essential' alongside information on its private minor surgery ‘one-stop' service, offering treatments between £100 and £225.

After being contacted by Pulse, Assura removed the ‘Private minor surgery service' page from its website, and later replaced the entire Assura Minerva LLP website. An Assura spokesperson confirmed Assura Minerva LLP offered a private minor surgery service in Bath, but said the company had never written directly to patients regarding NHS cuts: ‘We have been migrating to our new-look website. Thank you for bringing to our attention certain pages that are outdated.'

In Leatherhead, Surrey, Eastwich Park Medical Practice's website informs patients ‘Surrey PCT has decided not to fund minor surgery procedures where not clinically essential' as part of a page on its private minor surgery service. The service is only available to patients not registered at the surgery.

Dr Clare Gerada, RCGP chair, said: ‘GPs are being placed in an impossible position of wanting to do their best for their patients in a NHS that is rapidly becoming not national.'

Dr Roger Neal, a GP in Toddington, Bedfordshire, said: ‘I find it utterly ridiculous that I can't remove a skin tag from my own patient privately even at their own request.'


Rules for practices on private treatment:

• GMS and PMS contract regulations do not normally allow practices to charge their own NHS registered patients for private services

• GPs should not use NHS patient records to market private treatments

Source: Frequently asked questions on private practice, BMA guidance