NHS steps up rationing of treatment

A third of PCTs planning more restrictions

Newspapers claim NHS is "waiting for patients to die or go private"

Fresh evidence has emerged that the NHS is restricting access to non-urgent procedures.

Around a third of primary care trusts (PCTs) are introducing new measures this year to restrict GP referrals for interventions deemed to be of "low clinical value", according to GP magazine.

Responses from 111 PCTs to a Freedom of Information Act request show that those putting new restrictions in place are in better financial health than those that are not, with larger budget surpluses for 2010/11.

The magazine estimates that PCTs hope to save an average of £1m each by expanding restrictions on referrals.

The findings follow the news that NHS managers are imposing minimum waiting times in certain areas in a bid to save money, prompting some newspapers to report that the NHS is "waiting for patients to die or go private".

The strategy of limiting access to procedures of low clinical value is a controversial one. The Audit Commission has estimated that the NHS could save up to £500m a year by ceasing to fund procedures such as tonsillectomies. However, surgeons have warned of the consequences of restricting access to hip and knee surgery.

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