A survey by Pulse, a weekly magazine aimed at General Practitioners (GPs), has revealed that 31 percent (%) of GPs report that their patients are facing restrictions in IVF treatment following the latest cost-saving measures. According to the survey, family doctors reported that 1 in 8 patients referred by them had been denied IVF treatment.
One reason put forward for these latest problems with access is that there is a deliberate strategy to manage demand. Dr Anil Chopra, a GP and medical director for NHS South West Essex who supports the restrictions, told Pulse that 'The service restriction policy is part of a plan agreed with local doctors to bring referrals down to a more manageable level'. In Dr Chopra's catchment area, 12% of GPs had their referrals blocked. This included both outright rejection (4 %) and the diverting of referrals to other health professionals or health care providers (8%).
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, it was found that 80% of 32 primary care organisations have referral management centres. A third of the 380 GPs who participated in the survey had their referrals screened by a referral management centre.
The tightening of treatment allocation and referrals is affecting services across the NHS, including hip and knee replacements, allergy and cataract services, as well as IVF treatment. NHS North Yorkshire and York is proposing to stop providing hip and knee replacement operations for patients who smoke and who have a body mass index (BMI) of over 35 on the basis that 'by managing a patient's weight and stopping them smoking we can reduce the surgical risk and improve outcomes'.
There are concerns however, with Mr John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, pointing out that 'Surgeons always make a judgement with the patient about whether the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks and that will differ from case to case'.
Furthermore, there are fears of a 'postcode lottery' effect with some patients being able to access services in one part of the country while others cannot.