A SENIOR family doctor has warned of a drive to cut the number of hospital referrals in Dacorum in the face of mounting debts.
Trevor Fernandes, who chairs DacCom, a group of 20 GP practices in the borough, says patients should no longer expect to be sent to see a hospital expert as a matter of course.
“Going to see a consultant at a hospital is not the only way to solve a problem,” he said.
“If someone comes in saying: ‘I want a referral’, if it’s not necessary, no longer are we going to say: ‘All right then’.
“Things that are low priorities are not going to be referred.”
Dr Fernandes, a GP at Parkwood Surgery in Parkwood Drive, Hemel Hempstead, said the borough had been set a target total of 23,350 referrals for 2010 but was forecast to hit 27,598.
Across west Herts GP referrals were over budget by £1.6 million in October 2009.
The GP said there was an NHS overspend of around £35 million in 2009/10 in west Herts but by using reserves and juggling budgets they managed to break even. However, he said the pressures behind the overspend remained, which along with GP referrals include people using A&E unnecessarily.
Dr Fernandes has spoken out after the coalition government announced a freeze on health spending, which he says amounts to a cut because of inflationary pressures in the NHS of around four or five per cent a year.
He said ordering the obese to lose weight or smokers to give up before referring them for hospital treatment were options for the future.
“The system cannot be sustained. There is a responsibility to use this service responsibly, otherwise it’s not going to survive,” he said. “If people keep walking into A&E when they don’t need to, it costs a lot of money.
“We have got this big overspend. We do refer more than the average in the country, significantly. I’m not doing this just to be difficult or to tell people off. I’m doing this because we have no option. We are stuck with the budget we have got and demand is going up. The population is getting more elderly and somehow we have to make the factors fit. That is the tricky equation.”
Dr Fernandes will be discussing these issues at a public meeting organised by the Dacorum Patients Group this evening at 7.30pm at the Education Centre in Verulam Wing at Hemel Hempstead Hospital.
Meanwhile, the coalition government has also announced plans to give GPs more control over budgets as part of a massive shake-up of the NHS.
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