Doctors forced to plead with NHS for treatments for patients, BMJ finds

Growing rationing of healthcare is forcing more doctors to plead with the NHS to fund treatments patients need, including cataract removals, new hips and knees, and removal of varicose veins.

GPs and hospital consultants in England submitted 73,927 exceptional requests on behalf of patients in 2016-17 in a bid to persuade the NHS to fund drugs or surgery they were initially denied, an investigation by the BMJ has found.

That was almost 50% more than the 50,188 individual funding requests (IFRs) doctors put in to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), the bodies that hold the NHS budget in local areas, in 2013-14.

The revelations have prompted fresh concern among doctors and health experts that the cash-strapped NHS is increasingly denying patients treatments that were routinely available until recently. The sick “have misguidedly become soft targets for NHS savings”, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has said.

The BMJ’s findings are based on freedom of information requests sent to England’s 207 CCGs, of which 192 responded. Just over 50,000 IFRs were submitted in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. But that suddently rose by almost 20% to 60,425 in 2015-16 and then by about a fifth yet again to last year’s total of 73,927.

The commonest reason for an IFR last year was for surgery to remove unsightly skin, such as skin tags. Doctors did that on behalf of 6,079 patients.

The next most common after that were: cosmetic and aesthetic surgery (4,426 IFRs), plastic surgery (1,889) and fertility treatment (1,151).

Mental health conditions were the sixth commonest reason for a request. Despite the NHS’s pledge to improve access to care, doctors still had to submit an IFR to try to get 1,150 patients what they judged to be the care they needed.

Article from The Guardian, 5 July 2017