The British Medical Association (BMA) yesterday expressed concern over the cancellation by an Oxford hospital of a routine heart procedure because of lack of funds.
A BMA spokeswoman told News Line yesterday: ‘It’s very sad when we find out that hospitals are being forced to cut back on patient services because of funding difficulties.
‘With new government policies such as Patient Choice and Payment by Results the problems are set to get worse if the government fails to engage with clinicians who are running the services.’
She added: ‘The private sector is being given preference and this is producing problems.’
One hundred patients referred by their GPs to John Radcliffe Hospital have been refused cardiac ablation therapy, which uses radio frequency energy to correct abnormal heart rhythms.
Under the NHS Payment by Results system, the government pays £2,000 for cardiac ablation procedures, which actually cost the NHS £4,000 to carry out, while it is prepared to pay out £8,000 per procedure to private health companies out of the NHS budget.
It is the same procedure that prime minister Blair underwent last year. He claimed yesterday the condition has not impeded his work, but conceded ‘it’s as well to get it (the procedure) done.’
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt yesterday infuriated both the trust and doctors by claiming: ‘The NHS in Oxford, including the Radcliffe, has been overspending on its budget despite the fact that they have got more money than they have ever had before.
‘They are having to deal with that situation because clearly we cannot have a position where Oxford or a few other areas of the country are overspending on these hugely increased budgets.’
One patient pointed out yesterday he faces spending ‘the rest of my life breathless and tired.’
Stephen Ely added: ‘As a previously very active person, I find it extremely frustrating.’
Oxford Radcliffe Trust said in a statement that after looking at costs, cardiac ablation therapy ‘will not be routinely available’ and ‘some patients have been informed that they will no longer be eligible for this treatment.
‘There is not a never-ending pot of money, trusts need to balance their books.’
NHS consultant Mrs Anna Athow told News Line yesterday: ‘What is happening at Oxford epitomises the purpose of the government’s reforms – to cut services in the NHS and transfer them to the private sector.
‘Cutting the NHS cardiac ablation services will in fact increase the cost of care of patients, as they will no longer have a cure, but will have ongoing symptoms which require drug and emergency treatments.’
She added: ‘The underlying cause of the crisis was that, in order to fulfil the DoH’s six month waiting list target, patients were sent to the private sector where the tarriff charged was £8,000 instead of £2,000 on the NHS.
‘This is a stark example of how the government’s Payments by Results (fee for item of service) method of payment works to the advantage of the private sector.
‘In fact, the Oxford cardiologists state that the true price of the treatment for the NHS is £4,000 and that the NHS was constantly underfunded for work done.
‘The private sector profits while the provision of care is reduced. This is what “choice” and Rayments by Results is all about.
‘The BMA should end its complicit policy of support for Payments by Results and integration with the private sector, and support the Oxford cardiologists in their fight to retain a full NHS cardiac ablation service to all patients that need it.’