The health secretary has suggested patients waiting a long time for treatment in Scotland and Wales may be able to transfer their care over to an English NHS or independent provider.
In a letter to his counterparts in the devolved administrations, Steve Barclay said he is ‘concerned by variation in performance across NHS services’ and offered to ‘share lessons’ on how England is tackling the elective backlog.
According to the letter, in Wales there are more than 73,000 people waiting over 77 weeks for treatment, and in Scotland there are 21,600 waiting over 78 weeks for secondary care appointments, while in England, waits for treatment of more than 78 weeks have been ‘virtually eliminated’.
Mr Barclay emphasised that a key difference in approach between the nations is on ‘patient choice’, and cited the recent announcement that from October patients waiting more than 40 weeks for an appointment will be asked if they want to switch hospitals.
He wrote: ‘I would also be open to considering any request from you for patients waiting for lengthy periods for treatment in Scotland and Wales to be able to choose from alternate providers in England – NHS or independent sector – in line with the approach we are taking here, and building on the existing arrangements for cross-border healthcare.’
The letter also offered to set up a ministerial ‘working group session’ in order to share how England is implementing patient choice and to share lessons to tackle the elective waiting list.
In a statement, the health secretary said: ‘This will help to ensure we are joined up when it comes to cutting waiting lists – one of the Government’s top five priorities – and will allow us to better work together to improve performance and get patients seen more quickly.’
Meanwhile, a BMA Scotland survey of over 850 GPs has revealed that a quarter of them are planning to leave their practice in the next two years, and three quarters say the last year has made them more likely to leave the profession entirely.
GPC Scotland’s chair Dr Andrew Buist warned that these results paint ‘a very worrying picture’ for the future of general practice in Scotland, and said the crisis ‘is only going to get worse’.
The results also showed that only one in 20 GPs think their practice is in a long-term sustainable position, and 60% fear for the future of their practice if they lose a GP.
And 43% of respondents said there is no realistic chance of their practice being able to meet patient demand for access in the near future.
Dr Buist said: ‘These statistics show once again just how precarious the position is for practices and GPs themselves across Scotland.
‘It is a very bleak situation, and already many GPs fear the practices they work in are simply not sustainable in the long-term – leading, of course, to further worry for patients about accessing care, and continuity of care.’
He added: ‘The Scottish government must take this situation seriously and show greater willingness for increased investment in core general practice services to maintain stability.
‘And while there must be concerted action on the recruitment of more GPs – including the investment needed to support that in practices – crucially, action must be taken to retain the GPs we currently have and stop them from leaving the profession prematurely. It is no good recruiting 20 if you lose 25 in the process.’