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GPs’ incentives for private hospital referrals must stop, says Competition Commission

GPs are being offered incentives to refer to private hospitals in a practice that the Competition Commission said was unlikely to be in the best interests of patients.

The commission found examples of private hospital providers offering GPs cash incentives and schemes which included free consulting rooms or receptionist services in return for making referrals to the private hospital.

The allegations come in the provisional findings from the commission’s report into private healthcare, which was published on Monday,

The GPC agreed such schemes ‘shouldn’t happen’, but said they were ‘extremely rare’.

The report said: ‘They promote themselves to consultants (or GPs) in communications or at events, where they describe the quality of their staff and the facilities and equipment that they have invested in.

‘They commonly offer access to resources to make using their facilities more convenient for a clinician, for example, making consulting rooms or secretarial services available. They may also operate schemes which provide financial benefits to consultants using their facilities.’

The commission’s chairman Mr Roger Witcomb said he struggled to believe these schemes were in the best interest of patients.

He said: ‘We’ve also seen the existence of a range of incentives which encourage medical professionals to choose facilities on grounds other than price and quality—and we struggle to believe these can be in the interests of patients.’

But GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey, said such schemes were ‘extremely rare and unusual’ and added they were not something the GPC would support.

He said: ‘It’s not something I’ve ever heard of or seen any evidence of. If it happens it must be extremely rare and unusual. Obviously this is something that shouldn’t happen.’