GPs confirm increasing NHS waiting times and service restrictions

19 April 2011

General practitioners are already experiencing lengthening waiting times and restrictions on the availability of NHS services including cancer and cardiac care, according to a new survey* published today, commissioned by Spire Healthcare.

Fertility services, weight loss surgery and orthopaedic treatments are the biggest victims of pressures on the NHS. Almost a third (31 per cent) of GPs will make more private referrals this year.

The survey of over 500 GPs in the UK, conducted in February and March 2011, tested GPs’ experience of local NHS restrictions and waiting lists, demand for private treatment and their own attitudes to private healthcare.

The majority of GPs stated their local Primary Care Trust had restricted services, with 77 per cent experiencing cuts in fertility services, 70 per cent seeing reductions in weight loss treatments and 40 per cent experiencing NHS restrictions in ophthalmology services. Almost a third (30 per cent) of GPs have witnessed restrictions imposed on orthopaedic services.

The research also shows 54 per cent of GPs are seeing waiting times increasing for musculoskeletal work and 42 per cent of GPs are witnessing a rise in waiting times for NHS neurology treatment. In addition, 29 per cent of GPs are experiencing delays in cardiology and 28 per cent of GPs are seeing waiting times increase in ophthalmology.

One in ten GPs has seen waiting times increase for oncology and six  per cent are even experiencing NHS restrictions on cancer care. Almost a quarter (22 per cent) of GPs are likely to refer patients to the private sector for this type of treatment.

Further findings reveal:

  • 39% of GPs are seeing an increase in patients asking about privately funded treatment and almost a third (31%) plan to make more private referrals this year
  • 60% of GPs would privately refer if treatment isn't available on the NHS
  • Over half (57%) of GPs are unaware of the procedures no longer funded by their PCT
  • 43% of GPs have concerns over the care offered by the NHS
  • Almost half (49%) of all GPs ask their patients if they have private medical insurance
  • 61% of GPs would be more likely to refer privately if there was better access to health insurance
  • 40% believe lack of take-up of insurance is the biggest barrier to referral

Dr Jean-Jacques de Gorter, Clinical Director of private hospital group Spire Healthcare, said: “We would expect an increase in referrals for weight loss surgery and fertility treatment to private hospitals as the NHS faces increasing budget constraints. In addition, GPs tell us that they are experiencing an increase in waiting times for treating some cancer and heart conditions.”

Dr de Gorter continued: “GPs who were surveyed believe cost to be the main barrier to patients using private medical care. However, we think that offering choice is important, and this is the route to getting the best possible treatment. It is good to see many more GPs recognising that patients who choose to be treated privately can alleviate some pressure on the NHS, with 92 per cent of GPs expecting to refer patients privately in the year ahead.

“It is clear from the results that fewer than half of surveyed GPs are aware what private hospital groups such as Spire Healthcare currently offer in areas such as the provision for complex surgery. GPs could improve their understanding of services available outside the NHS. Increasingly, private hospitals can perform complex procedures such as wide-awake neurosurgery and minimal access spinal surgery, and have the required back up and aftercare such as intensive care and high dependency units. Established ideas about private healthcare are preventing patients from receiving full information and the ability to make informed choices.”

Dr Paul Silverston, a practicing GP in Newmarket, commented: “It is clear that we are seeing waiting times for surgery and services starting to increase and the recent changes in the NHS can only accelerate this trend. GPs should not try to decide for patients whether they think they can or cannot afford private medical insurance or private treatments. We should always provide patients with full information and ensure they are aware of all the treatments available that might alleviate their condition. Only then can a patient make an informed decision. Easier transfer between NHS and private care would also help reduce waiting times and pressure on the NHS.”


* Independent online survey conducted of 525 GPs in the UK during February and March 2011 by Pulse.

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