GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said the proposals by St Helens CCG highlighted the financial pressures facing the health service and its effect on patient care and called on the government to resolve the crisis.
Commissioners at the Merseyside CCG have said they could pause non-urgent referrals to secondary care for four months. A consultation document suggested decisions not to refer would be made in agreement with the patient and the GP based on urgency.
The CCG said it hopes the plan will save at least £2.5m in 2016/17 to support its financial recovery.
St Helens CCG's lay chairman Geoffrey Appleton said efficiency savings would not be enough to reduce the CCG’s £12.5m funding gap over this next year.
‘We are faced with the prospect of proposing to suspend, reduce or withdraw certain services,' he said. ‘We recognise these proposals will not be popular but we will be involving those, who want to have their say, in the discussions and we welcome your thoughts about how we should be making cost savings.’
The CCG is also proposing to stop providing prescriptions for over-the-counter medicines for short-term, self-limiting conditions and gluten free foods as well as restricting routine access to IVF treatment as part of its plan to save £12.5m this year and £17.5m next year.
Dr Vautrey said: ‘[The suspension of non-urgent referrals] is an unacceptable decision which highlights the incredible financial pressure facing general practice and its impact on patient care. It cannot be right that the public will be effectively denied access to healthcare because the local CCG has run out of money.
‘What apparently may not be urgent at first presentation and is therefore not referred could turn out to be very serious in the long term. Many cases of cancer are subsequently diagnosed following routine referrals of patients who have undifferentiated symptoms early on in their illness. The cost to the health service of delaying referrals could ultimately be much greater in the long term as more complex and costly problems develop as a result.
‘This is yet another sign of how desperately under-funded the NHS now is and how the government need to step up their commitment to resolving this crisis.’