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Labour calls for urgent review of GP referral incentives

Leading MPs have called for a national review of CCG schemes financially rewarding GPs for reducing referrals in light of a Pulse investigation.

The research, which showed at least nine CCGs are offering payment for keeping within targets for outpatient referrals and follow-ups, including urgent cancer referrals, has prompted the Labour Party’s new shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander to call for mininsters to ‘review the impact and extent’ of these incentives ‘as a matter of urgency’.

House of Commons health committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston also spoke out, calling for the GMC to ‘look carefully’ at all of the schemes.

Ms Alexander issued a statement which said: ’Patients must be confident that their GP will always act in their best interests. Financial rewards for denying patients access to care are wrong and risk damaging that trust between doctor and patient.

’Ministers must now review the impact and extent of these incentive schemes as a matter of urgency.’

She added that this was further evidence against the Government’s claim that the NHS can safely save £22bn by 2020, a point she made in her speech to the Labour Party Conference earlier in the week.

She said: ’The Government plans to make £22 billion worth of efficiency savings in the NHS by 2020, and this is just further evidence that savings on this scale cannot be delivered without harming patient care.’

Dr Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes in Devon and a former GP, said on Twitter: ’The @gmcuk needs to look carefully at all these schemes and act to protect patients.’

But Swindon GP Dr Gavin Jamie responded: ’What power does the GMC have to influence schemes set up by managers? Best it could do is tell doctors to ignore them.’

Also responding to Dr Wollaston’s tweet, Dr Stacey Munro, a GP in Portsmouth, said: ’Maybe the Government needs to look at funding healthcare properly… and if it can’t fund be honest with the public about limitations of NHS. Stop blaming GPs.’

Glasgow GP Dr Margaret McCartney commented on the story via her Twitter account, saying: ’It’s not trust in GPs that should be harmed… it’s trust in the politicians running the NHS.’

Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England said: ’We explicitly want to increase not deter appropriate referrals for cancer checks so as to ensure earlier diagnosis.

’But for some other conditions there’s clear evidence that by boosting funding of GP services, patients can get better care at their local surgery and avoid the need to go to hospital outpatients. The critical thing is to distinguish the two situations, which all GP-led CCGs must now ensure happens.’