By Ian Quinn
Controversial private sector services that GPs are under pressure to refer to are substantially more expensive than their NHS equivalents, newly released figures suggest.
A parliamentary answer published just before the Commons dissolved for the election showed diagnostic and treatment services operated by Care UK were between 7% and 12% more expensive than equivalent services provided by local hospitals.
The Clinical Assessment and Treatment Service in Manchester is 12% more expensive than equivalent gynaecology services, 9% more expensive for ENT and urology, and 7% costlier for orthopaedic and musculoskeletal services.
Requests for information on the costs of the service have previously been rejected on the grounds of ‘commercial confidentiality’.
In February this year Pulse revealed that GPs in Greater Manchester were being put under pressure to use the Manchester CATS service commissioned by a consortium of 10 PCTs.
A PCT medical director referred to ‘robust conversations’ with GPs and warned those who did not use the service could even be referred to the GMC.
Paul Rowen, MP for Rochdale, who has asked a series of parliamentary questions about the Manchester scheme, told Pulse: ‘At a time when services are under pressure when the NHS is looking to make cuts in spending, what we are going to end up with is cutting NHS services pay for more expensive private contractors.’
‘GPs should be able to refer patients where they think they will get the best treatment. Putting pressure on GPs to refer to private contractors makes total nonsense of the idea of patient choice. These kind of contracts are not something we can afford in the current economic climate.’
A Care UK spokesperson said: ‘At Greater Manchester CATS we are paid for the whole pathway between first consultation, through diagnostic procedures to treatment or onward referral. People who choose our CATS service find the pathway between referral from GP to treatment is much shorter and involves an average of three fewer appointments, which saves both the NHS and the patient time and money.’
But Dr Michael Taylor, a GP in Heywood, Lancashire, and former chair of the Family Doctors Association, said: ‘The chickens are coming home to roost because of the long-term, inflexible contracts that PCTs negotiated over these services.’ Dr Taylor also called for independent data on the safety and quality of the services.
Dr Ravi Mene, secretary of Salford and Trafford LMC, said the pressure on GPs to refer to the services was continuing: ‘Local GPs feel cornered because PCTs have got themselves into this mess after they succumbed to political pressures from above, and signed the contract despite warnings from the LMC.
‘Entering into these contracts with private providers will not achieve the savings they are supposed to.’
Costs data show the Care UK service ‘is more expensive than NHS hospitals’