Labour demands 'immediate' review of NHS rationing

Labour has demanded that ministers initiate an 'immediate' review of rationing in the NHS.

Lord Hunt: ‘Ministers should act immediately on new evidence showing treatment restrictions on grounds of cost alone'
Lord Hunt: ‘Ministers should act immediately on new evidence showing treatment restrictions on grounds of cost alone'

The call follows GP magazine’s revelation that more than 90% of PCTs impose thresholds or limits on referrals for procedures deemed 'non-urgent' or of 'low clinical value'.

Last month, GP magazine’s findings were raised by Labour in prime minister’s questions during a debate on rationing. Labour shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham MP also said the findings showed 'random rationing taking place across the health service'.

GP magazine's investigation also led health minister Simon Burns to warn commissioners that they could be sacked if restrictions on care remained in place.

Writing on a website for Labour peers, Lord Hunt of King's Heath, shadow health minister and Labour deputy leader in the House of Lords, said the current situation needed to be investigated.

‘Ministers should initiate an immediate review of rationing in the NHS and act immediately on new evidence showing treatment restrictions on grounds of cost alone,’ he said. ‘And they should reverse rationing decisions which leave patients in severe pain, restrict mobility, and limit their ability to live independently, pending the outcome of this review.’

He added: ‘No one disputes that ineffective or unnecessary treatments should be looked at more closely. But surely the government should initiate a public debate on whether or not these treatments are provided nationally by the NHS rather than allowing them to be restricted in a random fashion.’

PCTs expect to save £100m a year by restricting treatment, and the government has said: ‘If local health bodies stop patients from having treatments on the basis of cost alone we will take action against them.’

The fact-checking website Full Fact looked in detail at whether restrictions uncovered by GP magazine were being placed on the basis of cost, which had not been the primary aim of the investigation.

Full Fact concluded: ‘GP magazine uncovered dozens of examples of PCTs making savings as a result of restrictive activity and, while this is not solid proof of cost being a factor in the restrictions, this could go some way to highlighting potential cases that would concern the DH.’

Crossbench peer Baroness Masham of Ilton is asking ministers to explain the current situation with rationing in the NHS. She is also calling on the government to decide what should count as exceptional surgical and medical care and who should determine whether fund or not it should be funded.

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