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NICE to provide guidance on GP referrals

By Lilian Anekwe

NICE is set to wade into the debate on GP referrals by publishing guidelines on thresholds for referral from primary to secondary care.

The institute, usually tasked with making cost-effectiveness decisions for new treatments and interventions and publishing clinical guidance for use by GPs and the NHS, is set to dramatically ramp up its role and take on even more prominence in primary care.

The coalition Government's White Paper, published last week, revealed NICE is set for a much greater role in the NHS, including publishing the 150 quality standards that will form the basis of the new NHS Outcomes Framework.

And speaking at an event yesterday, NICE chief executive Andrew Dillon said NICE would also publish guidance around referral thresholds to encourage GPs to avoid ‘inappropriate' referrals.

‘We are aware that referrals are a big priority now for the NHS. One of the key decisions that GPs will make in their new role as budget holders is when to refer to secondary care. As soon as that is made it begins to cost significant funds, so it will be critical GPs make the right decision informed by the evidence.

‘It's not telling doctors what to do. It's the evidence of when referrals offer significant gains for patients. We will be culling information from existing guidance and we hope they are useful in the new world of GP commissioning as they are now.'

Mr Dillon's comments came as he also revealed the institute had been forced to slash its own budget by 20% over two years, in order to ‘keep the show on the road.'

But he insisted the rigour of their appraisals processes would not be affected. ‘The Department of Health has already imposed a further 3% reduction in funding this current year, and we have already made that saving, but we will need to save 10% by next April and a further 10% by April 2012.

‘That will not change which drugs we recommend, that's not an issue. But it does mean that we are going to have to be more efficient and re-organise our processes. We have to make it so, even though we are spending less, the assessments are just and rigorous and the processes just as robust.'

Referrals will be key to NHS costs