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GPs told to refrain from referring to local hospital for three months

GPs have been asked by commissioners to not refer to a local acute trust for at least three months to allow the hospital to clear up its backlog of operations.

The chair of NHS Redditch and Bromsgrove CCG, Dr Jonathan Wells, shared the letter online which asked GPs ‘to refer patients to another NHS or independent sector provider other than Worcestershire Acute Trust for an initial period of three months’.

The letter, which Dr Wells posted on Twitter, explained that the trust’s ability to treat outpatients within the 18-week target ‘has worsened considerably’, with 2,347 patients currently waiting longer than the maximum waiting time for their treatments.

A CCG audit of waiting times found that 66% more people were waiting more than 18 weeks for an operation at the trust compared with 12 months ago and that the situation was particularly bad for ear, nose and throat, trauma and orthopedics, gynaecology, general surgery and dermatology.

Dr Wells said local private hospitals could see patients in all areas aside from dermatology at NHS tariff prices and ‘treat ALL patients within 18 weeks’. But he said GPs could also refer patients to NHS hospitals in nearby Birmingham.

He also recommended GPs use the Choose and Book e-referral system rather than paper or fax, because the tool would allow them to see a list of providers including their current waiting times.

The letter said: ‘Both the CCG and Worcestershire Acute Trust have agreed that we need to create some headroom for a short period of time. We need to allow them to focus on treating the long waiters so that they can move to a sustainable position where they can meet the 18-week standard, and not have an unmanageable backlog of patients waiting over 18 weeks.

‘In order to support the trust in this respect we need to reduce the number of referrals going to Worcestershire Acute Trust, particularly for the specialties mentioned above.’

It added: ‘Whilst I appreciate that active encouragement to divert patients is unusual, I would like to stress that Worcestershire Acute Trust has requested this approach. Without such measures the situation will deteriorate further and our patients will suffer longer waiting times than is acceptable.’

The news comes as NHS South Kent Coast CCG said this week that it was in the process of signing a contract with two hospitals across the border in France to do elective surgery.

The deal, expected to conclude this year, will mean GPs can offer patients treatment in Calais. The CCG said this was due to an open tender to be on the Any Qualified Provider (AQP) list rather than for cost or access reasons.

A recent Pulse investigation also found that GPs around the UK are facing increasing restrictions on referrals in general as CCGs are forced to ration procedures to save money.