By Gareth Iacobucci
Exclusive: Choose and Book is being left to wither on the vine as large numbers of PCTs stop paying GPs for using the system, Pulse can reveal.
Our investigation found more than a third of trusts offering a LES removed payments in 2010/11, even though overall LES funding increased slightly.
The mass withdrawal of funding comes as figures show uptake of Choose and Book has stalled in the last 12 months – and fallen since last October.
Latest uptake figures show 53% of all GP referrals to first outpatient appointments were booked through Choose and Book in June 2010, the same as in June 2010, and down from 56% last October.
Of 129 PCTs responding to requests via the Freedom of Information Act, 49 had offered a Choose and Book LES in 2009/10, but this fell to 33 in 2010/11.
Among the trusts removing payments this year were NHS Somerset, NHS Islington and NHS East Sussex.
The DH has pledged to overhaul Choose and Book to try and reinvigorate the service. It said the number of PCTs offering any kind of service booked on Choose and Book increased from 128 in July last year to 133 in July 2010.
A Connecting for Health spokesperson said: ‘We are pleased many GPs are seeing the benefits of Choose and Book and are continuing to use the system effectively, even in the absence of incentive payments.’
But Dr Sally Hope, a GP in Oxford who wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for Choose and Book to be axed, backed moves to withdraw funding.
‘GPs loathe it as it takes a huge amount of extra time in a consultation to book it, or extra workload for secretaries,’ she said. ‘Consultants hate the process as they are always getting the wrong patients in the wrong clinics as they no longer see the letters.’
‘Patients find it deeply frustrating: those who’ve been operated on in past by one surgeon can’t get back into that clinic.’
PCTs across the country have begun pulling local funding for GPs using Choose and Book PCTs across the country have begun pulling local funding for GPs using Choose and Book