Posted on 22 Feb, 2023 in
NHS England: ‘One in five’ patient referrals bounced back to GPs, warns watchdog.
A report by Healthwatch England has criticised NHS referral processes, after discovering that one in five patient referrals made by GPs fell into a “black hole”. Of the 1,777 adults in England who spoke to the watchdog between September and October 2022 and had received a GP referral within the previous year, 368 (21%) did not receive the specialist care required as their referrals were rejected, not followed up on or sent back to general practice. The report suggested that more support was needed to help GP and hospital teams reduce the number of people returning to general practice following referral communication failures.
The failures were due to GP teams not sending referrals, referrals going missing between services, or hospitals booking or rejecting referrals without any communication. As a result, the affected patents went back to their GP to chase up the referral. The report added that the black hole phenomenon was not just frustrating for patients, but also added more burden to already stretched services, making things even harder for the doctors and nurses trying to provide care.
Dr Kieran Sharrock, BMA England GP committee acting chair, emphasised that the whole NHS is under unprecedented pressure, and patients are already experiencing exceptionally long waits for care. Delayed or lost referrals can mean conditions become more serious, pain worsens, and patients require more ongoing care from GPs and other parts of the system. He stated, “Patients’ uncertainty of not knowing what has happened to their referral, or when they can expect to be seen, only adds unnecessary anxiety.”
He also suggested that the NHS needs to develop a much more transparent system so that patients know when they have been referred, who and to which department they have been referred, and how they can track the referral.