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GP practice under fire for offering NHS patients private treatment

A GP practice has written to NHS patients telling them the practice's wholly-owned private provider can offer treatments ‘the NHS is no longer paying for', in a move that has triggered fears over conflicts of interest and data protection.

The Haxby Group practice in York wrote to around 30 patients waiting to have minor skin surgery to advise them that the procedure ‘is no longer paid for by the NHS' and alerting them to private treatment options, costing up to £250. One of the private options listed is the ‘Private Minor Operation Service' run by HGB Ltd – a company wholly owned by Haxby Group Practice.

The letter, published on the website, states:‘We are holding your details on a list of patients who require a minor surgical procedure that is no longer paid for by the NHS…As a result I am writing to make you aware of some of the options that you have to have the procedure completed as a private patient.'

It then goes on to list four companies offering the treatments, including HBG Ltd.

‘HGB Ltd sub-contracts Haxby Group Practice to allow us to offer minor surgery and consmetic treatments privately to patients,' the letter said.

Practice managers denied they had breached any rules and said they were trying to offer a local service ‘to fill a gap that the NHS is no longer paying for'. However, NHS North Yorkshire and York said it had ‘significant concerns' over the letter and stressed that three of the eight treatments it referred to remained available on the NHS.

The case has triggered a warning from ministers that GPs should not use NHS patient records to market private treatments, amid concerns over data protection.

John McEvoy, managing partner at the Haxby Group, told Pulse:‘We feel we are not in breach of anything. We feel we are following the advice and guidance of the PCT and the LMC regarding what would happen with these treatments. We wanted to offer a local service, as cheap as possible to our patients, to fill a gap that the NHS is no longer paying for.

‘We didn't ask to do this. The question is – if a service is withdrawn, who is best placed to provide it?'

But Dr David Geddes, medical director of NHS North Yorkshire and York, said:'We have significant concerns about this letter from the practice which we will be addressing with them directly and as a matter of urgency. We were not made aware of this letter in advance. Had we been consulted we would have advised against its release.'

Health minister Paul Burstow said:‘Patients' confidential clinical information should not be used for marketing purposes. Whilst GPs may decide to provide private healthcare services, it is not appropriate for them to use information about patients collected through the delivery of NHS services to market private services.

‘This government will not rig the market in favour of the private sector by giving them contracts that are unfair to patients and taxpayers. That's why we have made it illegal for this, or any future government, to deliberately favour the private sector.