Rationing of NHS care by area `is widespread'

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THE EXTENT of "postcode rationing" in the NHS is revealed today in a survey which shows health authorities are restricting access to up to 20 treatments, using their own rules to decide who will be eligible.

Almost half of health authorities have written policies on rationing but the rules governing who gets what on the NHS vary from place to place, researchers have found.

In the first comprehensive survey of rationing by postcode, researchers from the magazine HealthWhich, published by the Consumers' Association, contacted 117 health authorities in England, Scotland and Wales of whom 78 replied.

All admitted placing restrictions on some treatments and 35 had written policies on which treatments they regarded as "low priority". However, patients denied a treatment in one area could have got it if they lived elsewhere because there was no consistency in the rules.

Infertility treatment was rationed in all 35 authorities. In Leeds the maximum age for treatment was set at 34, while in Durham and Stockport it was 40 and in Tayside 42.

One of the most comprehensive lists of restricted treatments is produced by West Hertfordshire health authority. Among the treatments designated "low priority" are operations on varicose veins and haemorrhoids, removal of tonsils and adenoids in children, and removal of wisdom teeth. Expensive treatments for advanced cancer, allergies and hyperactive children are also restricted where their cost effectiveness is not established.