Surgeons 'told to reduce activity'

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FRESH evidence that surgeons are being told to stop or cut back on patient treatment months before the end of the financial year - and that GP fund-holders' patients are being given priority over others - has come from the Royal College of Surgeons.

A survey through its 234 surgical tutors shows that by the end of November, just eight months into the financial year, 44 per cent of surgical divisions in hospitals had been told to reduce or stop some activity. That compares with the 62 per cent who faced the same problem 10 months into the previous financial year.

The figures show that 'none of the contract-related financial problems of last year appear to have been resolved', the college said.

In addition, general surgeons in one in three units and surgeons in more than one-quarter of orthopaedic units have been told to deal only or selectively with patients from GP fund-holders. The same two-tier approach was reported in 23 per cent of urology units and 12 per cent of ear, nose and throat units.

Equally, surgeons are being told to deal with non-urgent waiting list cases regardless of clinical priorities, the survey found. That is being done to honour the Government's Patient's Charter, that promises patients will not wait more than two years, or more than 18 months for certain conditions, and has affected 27 per cent of general surgical units and 18 per cent of orthopaedic and urology units, according to the survey.

Professor Norman Browse, President of the Royal College, said it was particularly disturbing to find 'that up to one-third of surgeons are being asked to reduce their elective surgery and to deal only or selectively with general practice fund- holders.

'It is the college's view that all patients should be treated according to their clinical priorities,' he said.

The survey provides fresh evidence of two-tiering despite repeated denials by Dr Brian Mawhinney, the Minister for Health. Professor Browse said the prinicple that patients should be treated according to their clinical need was 'being undermined by financial considerations'.