DH figures show GP referrals for all specialities fell 3.7% from April to October 2011 compared with the same period last year. This equates to 258,418 fewer referrals by GPs in this time.
In contrast, referrals rose in the same period in 2010, up 4.5% from April-October 2009.
The falls follow PCT pressure on GPs to slash their rates of referral to save costs under the Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) programme.
In July, the Cooperation and Competition Panel found that some commissioners were ‘excessively restricting’ patient choice to save money. In some cases, a number of PCTs had attempted to constrain patient choice by influencing GPs' referral decisions.
GP leaders warned in September that trusts' restrictions on referral for diagnostics risk delaying diagnoses and 'deprofessionalising' GPs.
That same month, CCGs were advised to monitor both member practices and individual GPs' referral and prescribing behaviour in a Dr Foster report.
As a consequence of the referral squeeze, hospitals saw 1.1% fewer outpatient attendances in April-October this year compared with the same period last year.