Official figures show GP use of Choose and Book continues to fall, with some areas only managing to process a quarter of referrals using the service.
Department of Health figures reveal Choose and Book usage dipped below 50% in March, from a high of 57% two years ago.
The figures show 49% of GP referrals were made using the service in March 2012, and were stuck on 50% in April, despite a notional target of 90% of referrals to be made using the controversial electronic service.
Pulse reported last month that ministers were considering drastic measures to buttress the usage of Choose and Book after usage dipped.
The DH’s Information Strategy for the NHS suggested GPs could be forced to refer patients through Choose and Book or else call around multiple hospitals to check appointment availability in person.
The fall comes after the removal of the Choose and Book LES in many areas of the country and after a Pulse investigation suggesting the initiative was being left to ‘wither on the vine’ as more than a third of trusts offering a LES removed payments in 2010/11.
The Department of Health announced an investigation into the shock fall in the proportion of GP referrals made through Choose and Book, when figures first dipped to around the halfway mark in January.
The DH investigation was to include the impact of withdrawing the LES funding.
March figures showed national usage at 49%, with usage in one SHA as low as 25%.
Dr Andrew Mimnagh, chair of Sefton LMC and a GP in Liverpool said enchantment with the system has ‘worn off’.
He said: ‘If it did what it said on the tin, GPs would have adopted it. The fact is, it never has and GPs have voted with their feet in spite of all the threats and bribes.’
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We are working closely with the local NHS to improve the use of Choose and Book, including engaging with emerging organisations such the NHS Commissioning Board and Clinical Commissioning Groups.’
‘We remain committed to working with the NHS (including GPs) to embed Choose and Book into daily clinical practice so patients can reap the rewards of greater choice and more efficient healthcare.’
Choose and Book usage:
NHS South West 79%
NHS East Midlands 73%
NHS North East 72%
NHS North West 52%
NHS Yorkshire and the Humber 52%
NHS East of England 52%
NHS London 39%
NHS South Central 33%
NHS South East Coast 25%
Source: Department of Health figures, April 2012