An investigation by Pulse Magazine has led to a revelation that some GPs in the UK are being offered thousands of pounds to cut the number of patients being sent to hospital and such a practice has been widely criticised by charities, associations and leading doctors.
The investigation found that GP practices are being paid out to keep the referrals down to cut costs involved with hospitalization, support and care among other things. The investigation found that Several clinical commissioning groups (CCGS) were offering GP practices “ethically questionable” incentives with some practices being offered incentives in tune of thousands of pounds to refer as few patients as possible for specialist care – even in case of patients who were suspected of having cancer.
The investigation found that at least nine CCGs were involved with such practices including NHS North-East Lincolnshire, NHS Birmingham South Central CCG, among others.
Several charities, leading doctors and organisations have spoken against such a practice with the British Medical Association saying that such incentives were “misguided”.
Responding to the investigation Dr Rosie Loftus, Joint Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support says: “It is very worrying that GPs could be put under pressure not to refer people who might have cancer, against their clinical judgement, because of targets. This is yet another sign of an NHS which is seriously over stretched and not giving GPs the resources and support they need.”
With England’s cancer survival rates already amongst the worst in Europe, such practices would eventually hurt country’s efforts to increase the survival rate and hamper the quality of life for people with cancer.
“This isn’t something the NHS can afford to do”, Dr Loftus said.
“Macmillan is urgently calling on the Government to fully fund and implement all of the recommendations in the recently published Cancer Strategy, including giving GPs direct access to key investigative tests and increasing capacity in the NHS for the number of people who can be sent for testing.”
“Any doctor taking part in such a scheme should carefully consider our guidance, Financial and commercial arrangements and conflicts of interest, when they make recommendations for treatment or referral”, said Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the GMC.
Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the RCGP, has also criticised the use of incentives to GP not to refer patients to hospital. She said: “This is a preposterous idea. It is deeply insulting and demeaning – as well as being highly unethical – to suggest that offering GPs money will change the way in which we care for our patients. Most worryingly, it undermines the doctor patient relationship and the trust that underpins it.”