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Last Updated: Friday, 9 February 2007, 17:03 GMT
Patients forced to wait for care
By Branwen Jeffreys
BBC News, health correspondent

Patient being taken in to hospital
Some patients' hospital care is being delayed
A quarter of local health groups in England are asking patients to wait longer for hospital care to bring down NHS deficits, a BBC survey suggests.

Two thirds of the 152 primary care trusts (PCTs) responded.

Some are imposing minimum waiting times, while others are telling patients and GPs they won't pay for some treatments until April.

Health minister Caroline Flint said some areas had to "live within their means" but patients would not suffer.

Varicose veins

In some areas patients are even finding that certain treatments have simply been taken off the list for NHS funding.

Millie Lomas, 72, went to her local hospital last week for an injection to help with her chronic back pain.

Her consultant told Mrs Lomas that North Yorkshire and York PCT is no longer funding the injections. It is one on the list of indefinitely suspended treatments.

In some parts of the country trusts are setting certain minimum waiting times within this timeframe to live within their means
Health minister Caroline Flint

Mrs Lomas said she was flabbergasted after four years of regular treatment to have it withdrawn without any warning.

She now fears the return of long-term pain that prevents her even doing routine housework.

"It's disgusting what's happening, it really is. I'm really worried, I don't know what I'll do. "

Thousands of patients in North Yorkshire are similarly affected.

The PCT is forecasting that at the end of the financial year it will have a deficit of 43.5m.

Family doctors have been told they cannot send patients to hospital for a long list of treatments for non-urgent conditions for the last three months of the financial year.

These include IVF, vasectomies, varicose vein treatment, wisdom teeth and other minor operations.

'Arbitrary deadline'

The PCT has also issued instructions to local hospitals that patients arriving at A&E with minor injuries should be redirected to alternative services because it will not pay if they could be appropriately treated elsewhere.

Requests by the BBC for an interview with the PCT were refused.

In a statement the PCT said it had to take emergency measures to improve its finances and the restrictions only effect non urgent treatment.

"Patients needing routine surgery are treated no sooner than 16 weeks, but no more than 20 weeks, which is still within national government targets for waiting times."

We need to plan strategically
Dr Douglas Moederley-Lumb

This week, both local councillors and GP s held emergency meetings with the PCT chief executive.

Dr Douglas Moederley-Lumb who runs a practice in Scarborough, said the problems of poor financial management over several years cannot be sorted out in a few months.

He described the current approach as slash-and-burn, and said it was causing suffering to his patients.

"The problem is this arbitrary deadline.

The Health Secretary has said the NHS will be back in balance by end of the financial year.

"That's short-termism. We need to plan strategically over next few years."

PCT manage about 80% of the total NHS budget and are responsible for paying the bills for hospital treatment for patients in their area.

This year many face intense pressure to sort out historical financial problems.

The latest government figures show that 40% are forecasting they will finish the financial year with a deficit.

They can make patients wait longer as long as they don't break the current government target for maximum waiting time for inpatient treatment which is six months.

But health minister Caroline Flint said: "Nobody who needs urgent or emergency treatment is affected.

She stressed waiting times were at their lowest ever.

However she added: "In some parts of the country trusts are setting certain minimum waiting times within this timeframe to live within their means, but this is not at the expense of clinical need."

How one patient was affected by NHS changes

NHS 'facing make-or-break year'
02 Jan 07 |  Health
NHS slipping into deficit again
09 Nov 06 |  Health

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