A BIRMINGHAM hospital is refusing to treat patients from Worcestershire because it is unable to cope with demand.
University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), which runs the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the second city, is refusing to accept referrals from GPs outside of its own catchment area for a three month period for those patients requiring general surgery, pain management, general dermatology, urology and from the middle of October for ear, nose and throat operations.
So far 173 referrals have been rejected with 32 coming from the Redditch and Bromsgrove area.
But commissioners in Redditch and Bromsgrove have branded the situation ‘completely unacceptable’ and warned UHB is breaching national rules, its contractual obligations and the NHS Constitution which guarantees patients a right to choose where to be treated for planned surgery.
Commissioners across Worcestershire have now appealed to NHS England and the regulator Monitor as well as UHB asking them to reverse the decision as soon as possible.
Simon Gartland, deputy head of commissioning, told a meeting of the CCG’s governing body: “The rules state if you have an activity issue you raise it with commissioners first and see what you can do about it while maintaining the service to patients, you don’t stop the service and have an argument, you have an argument while seeing the patients and that’s what we’ve asked UHB to do and go back to normal as quickly as possible.”
Simon Hairsnape, chief officer for Redditch and Bromsgrove CCG, added the situation was a first as normally if commissioners were willing to pay for activity, which they were, then the Trust should provide it at the set price.
“Here is a Trust saying it can’t and won’t. If every Trust took that view, choice would be reduced to practically zero.”
Stewart Messer, chief operating officer for Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said the decision was a significant risk to their own ability to clear a backlog of about 1,000 patients waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment by November. Referrals for operations are already 4.8 per cent up on last year and Mr Messer said the move by UHB was likely to lead to more demand from the Redditch and Bromsgrove area.
A spokeswoman for WAHT added: “We would like to reassure patients, especially those in the R&B area that we are still providing a full range of services at the Alex because we are focused on the needs of local people.”
BOSSES at UHB have defended their decision to suspend referrals from outside of the Birmingham area by blaming commissioners for failing to control demand.
The Trust say in the last two years it has seen an unprecedented year on year rise in emergency admissions and attendances at A&E.
Attendances have increased by almost 21 per cent in the last two years and in the first three months of this financial year emergency activity for all CCGs is ten per cent ahead of plan and up 15 per cent in Redditch and Bromsgrove alone.
There is also more demand for operations at the QE, with referrals up six per cent overall in the first three months of 2014/15 but there has been a nine per cent growth in referrals from out of area CCGs, responsible for buying in healthcare services, while demand is up just five per cent from commissioners in the Birmingham area.
The Trust says this is impacting on waiting times for patients within its own area when much of the care needed can be delivered at local hospitals, leaving the QE to focus on carrying out specialist work.
Hospital chiefs say if they had not acted waiting times would have deteriorated, not only for those services affected by the suspension, but for some of the higher level services only they provide including those offered to liver cancer and cardiac patients.
A spokeswoman for UHB said the suspension would be reviewed in three months and a decision taken on whether it should be extended further. But she rejected claims they were breaching the NHS constitution.
“It is our view the provision of choice is actually the responsibility of the CCG who must be able to offer patients more than one choice of provider. There remain a number of hospitals available to patients requiring treatment from these CCGs. Contractually we are required to receive referrals from CCGs and to treat the patients referred within the maximum waiting time of 18 weeks. However at the same time the CCGs are contractually responsible for managing referral demand. At present demand continues to grow unchecked.”