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GP consultation length faces cut by a third as ‘financial meltdown’ looms

By Ian Quinn

NHS chiefs have drawn up proposals to slash the length of GP appointments by a third as they plan for across-the-board budget cuts.

The idea has been mooted by NHS London, which has been receiving advice from the management consultancy firm McKinsey on how to make huge efficiency savings in the face of the impending funding squeeze.

But BMA leaders have warned the proposals show GP services are heading towards ‘financial meltdown.'

NHS London plans include:

• A 33% cut in the length of GP appointment times

• Cutting the number of people going to hospital accident and emergency departments by 60% and the number going to hospital outpatients by 55%.

• Millions of patients being diverted to so-called polysystems or clinics that have not yet been built, with £1.1bn cut from hospital budgets across London

• A 66% reduction in staffing of non-acute services, these include community services for older people and district nurses.

The 'London's NHS on the Brink' report, prepared for the BMA by John Lister, information director at London Health Emergency, accuses NHS London of a lack of transparency in the way it has drawn up its plans to respond to the expected freeze on NHS budgets from 2011.

The report claims NHS London has refused Freedom of Information Act requests to release a confidential report drawn up for them by McKinsey, effectively denying interested parties any opportunity to scrutinise its underlying assumptions or supporting evidence.

But the document includes details of reports which have been published which indicate that London PCTs will face a funding gap in the region of £5 billion by 2017.

The health budget for London in 2009/2010 was approximately £13 billion.

Dr Kevin O'Kane, chairman of the BMA's London regional council, said: ‘While we recognise that there are problems with healthcare delivery in London, we are extremely worried that plans to cut services are being kept secret.'

‘We are calling for full disclosure of the proposals so that there can be a public debate. This is vital so that Londoners can have their say about local cuts and take a wider view of what is happening to the NHS.'

‘If people realised that we are heading towards financial meltdown involving cuts in bed numbers and hospitals closing or being down-graded, they would demand the opportunity to make their voices heard about these plans.'

But Sam Higginson, Assistant Director of Strategy at NHS London, said the SHA stood by its plans.

'Healthcare for London will deliver an even better quality NHS for less money. When Lord Darzi wrote the report in July 2007 he knew that population growth and health inflation meant we had to change if we were to continue to have an NHS Londoners deserve. Patients also told us they wanted a more convenient and accessible health service. This meant localising services where possible and centralising where necessary.'

'Since the report was published, the credit crunch has increased the urgency for change. No change will lead to the death of the NHS in London by a thousand cuts. No change is not an option.'

GP appointment times could be cut by a third GP appointment tiems could be cut by a third Read the full report

To read the BMA's full report, 'London's NHS on the brink', please click here.