Nine out of 10 NHS Trusts are 'rationing operations'
Two thirds of trusts limited cataract surgeryMore than half limited hip and knee operationsHealth Minister calls restrictions 'totally unacceptable'



10:56 GMT, 19 June 2012

NHS hospitals are rationing the number of operations they perform to balance their budgets.

Nine out of 10 Trusts admit that they are restricting the number of procedures they perform to save money.

Rationed treatments are labelled 'non-urgent' or 'of low clinical value' but include essential hip and knee operations as well as cataract surgery.

The widespread problem was revealed after a freedom of information request revealed 90 per cent of trusts had restricted GP referrals for a number of procedures. It means patients face joining a waiting list to even get on the surgery waiting list.

More than half of trusts were rationing hip and knee operations

More than half of trusts were rationing hip and knee operations

Limits on cataract surgery have been ordered in two-thirds of trusts, while six in 10 restricted weight-loss surgery and hip and knee operations. The most common restriction was on removing the tonsils, with 89 per cent rationing availability of the surgery.

GPs and charities accused PCTs of 'introducing waiting lists by the back door' by limiting access to care.

However, today Health Minister Simon Burns said rationing treatment on grounds of cost was 'totally unacceptable' and decisions as to whether and when to treat patients should be on clinical grounds alone.

'It has got to be simply a clinical decision as to when a patient receives their treatment,' he told ITV Daybreak.

'We have had the chief executive of the NHS David Nicholson, the medical director, writing to the trusts to tell them in no uncertain terms that the only criteria must be a clinical decision not a financial one.

'Ultimately if we find evidence that they are ignoring that, then the Secretary of State does have the powers to intervene.'

Data from 101 of the 151 primary
care trusts was released after GP magazine lodged a freedom of information request.

Commenting on the data, Kent GP Dr Julian Spinks told GP Magazine: 'They're introducing waiting lists by the back door.

'People are not getting treatment or having to wait until they get worse, but the government and the NHS can say they're meeting targets.'

NHS Confederation deputy chief executive David Stout said: 'The NHS faces considerable financial pressures and scarce resources have to be used as effectively as possible.

'PCT commissioners take very seriously their role in protecting and improving the health of patients using limited funds. All PCT boards and management teams have senior clinicians who take a lead role in advising how local services should be planned and delivered.

'Where any decisions are taken to limit or reduce certain types of treatment, it is essential that commissioners and GPs are clear with patients and local communities from the outset about what services are and are not available to them, and how long they can expect to wait for treatment.

'Where there is poor commissioning practice, we should not support it. Nobody wants decisions on patient care taken in an arbitrary fashion purely based on cost rather than evidence.'

Older patients are more likely to need operations to remove cataracts and replace joints. Last week the government said they would ban discrimination against older patients based on age alone from October.