The GPC has warned that GPs and commissioners will find it harder to monitor the increasing number of services provided under the AQP scheme, which means that providers can be from the NHS, private or voluntary sectors.
Last autumn, the DH extended the number of services available under AQP to 39, but said that commissioners will be able to decide if they want to add more.
Since then, this has expanded to 49 services. New services added by CCGs since the autumn include flexible sigmoidoscopy, integrated respiratory and community gynaecology.
GPs have raised fears that appointments are overrunning because they are forced to inform patients about all the referral options.
GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘GPs and commissioners are required to be confident of the quality of care provided by commissioned providers. The greater the number of AQP providers the less likely it will be for GPs and commissioners to monitor these contracts.
‘Having a proliferation of AQP will make it increasingly difficult for commissioners to ensure the quality of these services.
‘It places additional burden on GPs when they are required to offer choice without having adequate knowledge of the provision and quality of care. It adds extra workload on GPs.’
The BMA has argued against the marketisation of the NHS, but was forced to ditch plans to give patients 'pledge cards' inviting them to opt out of being referred to private providers under AQP. Lawyers warned that GPs could face legal challenges by private companies if they made the cards available in their practices.
A DH spokeswoman said: ‘Having a greater range of providers gives patients more choice and can drive up the quality of their care. It means that GPs don’t need to settle for their patients having a single option but can take action to ensure the best range of providers for their patients.’