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NHS cracks down on incentives to curb GPs cancer referrals

Exclusive NHS England has scolded CCGs for offering incentives to GPs for cutting down the number of urgent cancer referrals they make. 

The director of commissioning said that she has been in contact with the CCGs who were giving practices financial incentives to cut urgent cancer referrals to ease pressure on secondary care, as revealed by Pulse last week.

The Pulse investigation found that NHS North-East Lincolnshire CCG and NHS Lambeth CCG were offering financial incentives for practices to cut the number of referrals they made, which included urgent cancer referrals. 

They were among nine overall who Pulse found were setting practices referrals targets in order to receive extra funding.

Following a media outcry, NHS England has contacted the CCGs involved to say that they must ensure that their incentives scheme should not affect cancer referrals.

Dame Barbara Hakin, national director for commissioning operations at NHS England, said: ‘The number of patients referred to hospital for urgent cancer checks is up by over 600,000 over the past five years, and we now want it to go up even more, so as to diagnose suspected cancers earlier.

‘NICE has set out evidence based guidelines for when patients should be referred, and no CCG incentive scheme should in anyway cut across that. We are in touch with each of the CCGs mentioned to ensure that this is very clearly communicated to all practices.’

The GPC said that many of these schemes could be ‘ethically questionable’ and Pulse revealed that the GMC looked into at least one of them to see if it is contrary to the guidance for doctors in Good Medical Practice.

Last week, shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander called for a national review of the CCG schemes.