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GPs could have to defend their CCG’s rationing decisions in court, lawyer warns

GPs face being hauled in front of a judge to justify their prescribing decisions as CCGs make ever more controversial rationing choices, legal experts have warned.

Lawyers say recent restrictions – such as targeting smokers and the obese and limiting use of the newly NICE-approved anticoagulant dabigatran – are prime examples of areas where individual GPs may have to explain why they are not providing NICE-approved treatments to patients after CCGs assume responsibility for providing care from April 2013.

Ben Troke, partner at Browne Jacobson LLP, although legal responsibility was in the hands of the CCG, individual GPs could be called as witnesses for any judicial review.

He said: ‘The reforms bring allocation of resources decision-making closer to the individual GP, as some of the responsibility is given to GP-led CCGs.

‘Judicial review can only be brought against a public body, such as a CCG, but an individual doctor might be involved in the court process as a witness, having to explain what he did and why he did it, which might not always be a comfortable experience, however reasonable or right his actions were.’

But Dr Stephanie Bown, director of policy at the Medical Protection Society, said it was more likely rationing decisions could see GPs face GMC action.

She said: ‘I think there is a potential for more complaints, rather than claims, including to the GMC, if patients are dissatisfied with commissioning decisions which they believe – rightly or not – to be decisions which their GP has been involved in through the CCG. But we will have to see.’