NHS won't fund minor ops, says GP

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Patients awaiting skin treatments in York have received letters from their GP surgery saying the NHS will not fund minor operations and the only option is to go private.

The controversial letters expose an apparent conflict of interest under the government's NHS reforms, and spark fears that certain proceeds could be banned on the health service.

In a letter obtained by the website nhsmanagers.net, around 30 patients at the Haxby and Wigginton health centre in York are advised that for a number of minor surgical procedures, such as ingrowing toenails, mole removal and chopping out warts and cysts, they would have to go private.

It says: "We are holding your details on a list of patients who require a minor surgical procedure that is no longer paid for by the NHS."

The letter identifies four "local service providers who offer the procedure privately", including HBG Ltd, which it admits is "a company that is wholly owned by the practice". The price list of treatments range from £56 to remove a skin tag to £243 for lipomas.

The letter from John McEvoy, managing partner at the health centre, which serves more than 20,000 patients, claims the NHS will no longer fund some operations. "As a result I am writing to make you aware of some of the options that you have to have the procedure completed as a private patient."

Private referrals
Experts said this exposed a conflict of interest under the government's NHS reforms. According to the Guardian, John Appleby, chief economist at the King's Fund, said: "This is a massive conflict of interest here. The GP is earning money potentially from referring the NHS patient to his own private practice.

Appleby also questioned whether any GP could claim that the local primary care trust could have "a blanket ban" on procedures. "A GP can always challenge these things," he said. "You cannot ban something – it has to be done on a case-by-case basis."

The Daily Mail reports that McEvoy insisted it was not handing over patient details to a commercial organisation. He told the newspaper: "It isn't a direct mail shot from the company. We're being very above board about the link between the practice and the company. Patients have a choice about whether to use that service or another."

Freely available
It is reported that the Primary Care Trust has serious concerns over the case. Dr David Geddes, medical director of NHS North Yorkshire and York, told the Guardian: "We have some concerns about the activities of the Haxby and Wigginton health centre in York and we will be discussing these issues with them directly as a matter of urgency.

"These concerns are around possible breaches of the Data Protection Act and the accuracy of the information sent to patients. For example, of the eight procedures they list, three are routinely funded by NHS North Yorkshire and York and should be made freely available."
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