It gives the warning in guidance issued after GP revealed that Brent PCT in north-west London was to withdraw funding for interpreters and translators in GP practices (GP, 2 March 2007).
Dr Stewart Drage, joint chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, wrote to Brent practices and all London LMCs after Brent PCT withdrew funding for these services this month.
Dr Drage wrote the PCT maintained that responsibility for both providing and funding these services had transferred to practices.
‘This concept of “transferring funding responsibility” which the PCT has dreamt up will be of great concern to all practices, because the PCT could try to do this for anything it chooses, not just language services,’ he added.
Expert legal advice obtained by Londonwide LMCs contradicts the PCT’s claim.
Dr Drage added: ‘If you decide to fund and provide these yourself, you should be aware that this could be deemed as becoming part of essential services, and therefore you could be allowing the funding of these services to become a requirement for all practices in the UK.’
Legal advice is that the PCT has a duty under the NHS Act 2006 to provide medical services to all residents.
The PCT has not offered to negotiate contractual arrangements with GMS or PMS practices to delegate its duty to provide and fund language and signing services to practices.
Without this contract, the responsibility to fund the services remains with the PCT, according to Londonwide LMCs.
Dr Drage continued: ‘If you were previously able to provide medical services because a translation service was funded by the PCT, then you cannot be held to be discriminatory if the PCT renders you unable to provide medical services because of its decision to withdraw its funding.’
Brent is one of the most ethnically diverse parts of England. The cut will save the PCT £150,000
a year. Londonwide LMCs said the only practice where such services are now funded is the sole PCT-run practice.
A spokeswoman for Brent PCT said cuts were unavoidable.
‘Brent believes that it does not have a duty to provide this service but that our GPs do. If that is proven not to be the case then the PCT will review this measure,’ she said. ‘Until then the decision to cease funding is being seen as a legitimate cost-saving measure.’