Lansley bans minimum patient waiting times and caps on operations

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has banned PCTs from enforcing minimum waiting times on referrals and placing caps on operations.

Andrew Lansley: 'PCTs have to manage resources carefully but they must do so without restricting patient choice'

Mr Lansley was responding to the co-operation and competition panel report on patient choice published earlier this year.

The report said that the panel was told that ‘increasing waiting times for patients did have the potential to save money overall’ and that patients would ‘remove themselves’ from waiting lists if they were forced to wait longer.

‘We understand that patients will 'remove themselves from the waiting list' either by dying or by paying for their own treatment at private sector providers,’ the panel said.

Mr Lansley announced that by March 2012 at the latest, all PCTs will be expected to have removed minimum waiting lists and caps on operations.

All decisions that could impact on patient choice must now be taken at PCT board-level and must be made public.

Mr Lansley said: 'PCTs have to manage resources carefully but they must do so without restricting patient choice. That’s why I am taking firm action today and banning these unfair measures imposed on patients.'

Dr Shane Gordon, NHS Alliance GP Commissioning Federation national co-lead, said he agreed with the ban of minimum waiting times and caps, which he described as ‘accountancy tactics’.

However he said the ruling would inevitably leave clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) making tough decisions weighing up the needs of individual patients versus the needs to the population.

‘This is the sort of challenge we’re going to have to face,’ he said.

Dr Gordon said he thought it would be acceptable for PCTs, and in the future CCGs, to have thresholds for certain niche treatments or where there are alternative treatments available but he said ‘blanket bans’ were not acceptable.

‘I would suggest the focus is on the right pathways to the most effective treatments. That is a good area for CCGs to work on with colleges,’ Dr Gordon said.  

NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar said that despite the ban it was critical that CCGs retain ‘absolute control’ over referral and admission thresholds in the future. ‘Otherwise they will find it difficult to balance their budgets,’ he said.

Mr Farrar warned that although CCGs had a constitutional guarantee that they would maintain that level of control, ‘there is still some flexibility’.

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