GP referral rates to hospitals for elective care have fallen by nearly 2% in the last year, NHS England has said.
The latest board papers reveal that elective GP referrals have fallen by 1.6% between 2016/17 and 2017/18, compared to an average annual growth of 3.8% in the previous four years.
The paper, which looks at NHS England’s progress on implementation of the NHS Five Year Forward View, praises CCGs for curbing demand on hospitals.
The papers said: ‘CCGs have had considerable success over the past year in moderating the growth rate of hospital demand.
‘For elective care, GP referrals actually fell by -1.6% in 2017/18 (compared to average annual growth of 3.8% in the prior 4 years).’
This comes after a Pulse investigation revealed that nearly a quarter of CCGs implemented a cash incentive scheme to cut GP referrals.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said such schemes were ‘insulting’ to GPs, adding that GPs are ‘highly-trained medical professionals, who know our patients, and will act in the best interests of their health and wellbeing’.
Last year, NHS England tasked CCGs with achieving a ‘slower growth in referrals’, saying rising demand for elective services was ‘leading to an increasing national waiting list [and] longer waiting times’.
It comes as the overall number of GP referrals, also including urgent referrals, dropped for the first time in six years in 2017, when the number fell by 2% compared with the year before.
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS England is working with local health bodies and GPs to find alternatives to hospital referrals where it is appropriate and right for the patient.’