A senior hospital consultant in an area spearheading GP commissioning has resigned from his position representing secondary care doctors and claimed restrictions on GP referrals and caps on activity were putting patient safety at risk.
Guy Broome, an orthopaedic surgeon who chaired the medical staff committee at debt-ridden North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, said he was no longer prepared to negotiate with local GP commissioners or the trust.
Mr Broome said he had quit because patients were being denied care on financial rather than clinical grounds, and because the hospital had attempted to gag him from publicly voicing his fears about patient safety.
The trust, which encompasses the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, is currently grappling with a cost improvement target of around £15m, but insisted all decisions on care were clinically assessed.
Mr Broome said: ‘It got to a point where from the consultants' point of view, patient safety and quality were adversely affected. When GP commissioners took over, initially I was very hopeful and had some constructive meetings on pathways.'
‘But they are starving us of funds. I've got a patient who has been cancelled six times for a knee replacement. I've had quite a few cancelled more than four times.'
Mr Broome claimed the hospital trust had attempted to prevent him from speaking to the media or the NHS scrutiny committee about his concerns.
Dr Peter Weaving, a GP in Brampton and joint chair of NHS Cumbria's clinical senate, said GP commissioners were trying to make decisions with the agreement of consultants, but that they had to be aware of the financial restraints.
‘We have frequent discussions with management and consultants. If they feel there are safety issues, they should be raised at these meetings,' he said.
‘There seems to be a lack of awareness of the substantial financial subsidies north Cumbria has had year after year. We are spending money we don't have.'
A hospital trust spokesperson said: ‘We have been working closely with clinical teams to become more efficient, but we have been clear this will not be to the detriment of patient quality and safety.'
On the allegation of gagging, the spokesperson added: ‘There are clear guidelines in the trust regarding the way we communicate with the media.'
'Mr Broome has had two cancellations since April 2011 – one because an orthopaedic emergency took priority and one because medical notes could not be located in time.'