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Hospitals scare patients by exaggerating risks of surgery to reduce waiting lists, GPs claim

Hospitals may be over-dramatising the risks or potential hazards of surgery to keep their waiting lists down, a Pulse survey suggests.

The survey found that nearly a third had experienced this in the past 12 months, with some speculating that it was due to increased pressure to keep waiting lists down.

Of 237 GPs who participated in the survey, 31% said they had experienced hospitals over-emphasising the risks or potential hazards of surgery in the past year.

Dr Susan Lipscombe, a GP in Hove, east Sussex, said patients were being dissuaded from scheduled operations - such as cholestectomies and hernia operations - after the risks of surgery were ‘scarily' set out to patients by hospital consultants.

She said: ‘They've come back saying that they're not going to have the surgery because of the risks of bleeding, clots in veins and that they would have to sign a waiver agreeing to this.

‘The risks are being exaggerated. Patients about to have simple hernia operations have been told of risks of clots to lungs and that they might die of a pulmonary embolism.'

She added that she thought this could be an effort by the consultants to reduce waiting lists: ‘I think it's because surgeons have to meet targets for waiting lists.

‘If they're re-referred it generates a new fee for seeing the patient again. The majority are re-referred. The patients have to join the waiting list again. It's a circle with the patients in the middle.'

Dr Hendrik Beerstecher, a GP in Sittingbourne, Kent, agreed that patients were being ‘put off' having knee or hip surgeries in order to reduce waiting lists, leading to more work for all doctors.

He said: ‘On balance they made it sound more dangerous than it is, to put them off the waiting list. They'll continue to have their problem because the worn-out hip is not going to go away and they're re-referred.

‘Postponing things is not a solution; it causes more work, more GP appointments and more hospital appointments.'

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said that all risks are now communicated to patients in an effort to promote informed consent, but said there was no excuse for consultants becoming ‘NHS stooges'.

He said: ‘People should be reminded they should practise medicine first.'