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MPs question health secretary over Pulse’s ‘incentives for referrals’ revelations

Pulse’s investigation into CCGs giving incentives for GPs to cut down referrals – including urgent cancer referrals – has been raised in Parliament, with the health secretary asked to explain what action he had taken.

Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, asked Jeremy Hunt what discussions he had had with CCGs and the GMC about the schemes, which Pulse revealed were incentivising practices to hit targets on numbers of referrals.

Pulse’s investigation found almost ten CCGs already offering incentive schemes to GP practices to reduce their referrals below a locally set target. At least two of these were including two week cancer referrals despite national drives to boost early diagnosis.

Ms Hayes asked health secretary Jeremy Hunt: ‘With reference to the article entitled GP practices offered questionable incentives to cut urgent cancer referrals, published in Pulse on 1 October 2015 what discussions he (a) has had and (b) plans to have with (i) those clinical commissioning groups referred to and (ii) the General Medical Council on such incentives’?

Responding on behalf of the health secretary, minister for public health Jane Ellison said that cancer diagnoses had risen in the past five years, despite the questionable incentives which included referrals under the two week wait path way in their reduction target in some areas.

Mrs Ellison added: ‘[NICE] has set out evidence based guidelines for when patients should be referred, and no CCG incentive scheme should cut across that.’

She added that ’NHS England has contacted each of the CCGs mentioned to ensure that this is very clearly communicated to all practices’ – which Pulse has previously reported.

NHS North East Lincolnshire, one of the CCGs that included cancer referrals in their targets, was also raised in a commons health debate on Tuesday, when local Conservative MP for Cleethorpes Martin Vickers said the scheme to reduce referrals ‘has met with a hostile reception from my constituents, who fear it may affect decisions on their care’.

Health minister Alistair Burt replied: ‘The north Lincolnshire scheme is designed to try to encourage doctors to make sure that there are no inappropriate referrals to secondary care; it is not designed to prevent appropriate ones.’