There are several referral sorting mechanisms around the country, usually staffed by experienced GPs, and this happens in Cornwall. Does it really matter if the company is independent, as long as the sorting happens efficiently? Inappropriate or disorganised referrals are commonplace, and occurring more frequently as GPs collapse under their unsustainable workloads.. It is another method of rationing – logical, covert for patients, and bureaucratically effective.
There is concern that patients in County Durham have not been notified that GPs must now ask a private company to decide on referrals to specialists.
North Durham Clinical Commissioning Group has awarded a contract to About Health, which will advise on the best way to manage a range of conditions.
A local MP said it was “disgraceful” the system had been put in place without a public consultation.
Health bosses said the move would save money, and GPs had been consulted.
Under the contract, doctors across north Durham will write to About Health for advice on whether a patient should be sent to a specialist or whether they should try other treatments.
The conditions include cardiology, gynaecology, dermatology, or gastroenterology, but will not relate to suspected cancer or other urgent cases.
Durham Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods has said that taking the GPs’ right to refer away is wrong and wants the contract immediately scrapped.
She said: “It is absolutely disgraceful that they have gone ahead with this with no public consultation.
“I am going to demand that the put a halt on this … because I honestly believe it could compromise patient safety.”
Richard Vautrey, from the BMA, said: “I’m a bit concerned if the clinical commissioning group does not believe that patients should be fully involved and fully informed about what is happening for their care.
“When a referral is being made or advice is being sought patients should understand who that advice is being taken from, and whether they are having the right expertise to be able to provide that advice, and whether the GP believes it is in the right interest for a patients at that time.”
The North Durham Clinical Commissioning Group said that GPs had been involved in the process, and the aim was to diagnose conditions earlier, get patients to specialists earlier, and reduce hospital admissions.