NHS England claims the process is a “peer review” scheme.
Increasing numbers of clinical commissioning groups have set up referral panels in spite of opposition from many local doctors. In some cases private companies have been contracted to do the work.
NHS England is now promoting a scheme which would require CCGs to undertake weekly reviews.
According to the memo, the panels can reduce numbers of referrals by 30% – and NHS trusts may get financial incentives to set them up.
The magazine obtained a memo circulated by NHS Bedfordshire stating that NHS England was expected “100% coverage of prospective peer review in practices.”
According to the proposals, CCGs would have to use their own GPs to staff panels to provide a peer review process. The British Medical Association warned this would require thousands of hours of GP time – at a time when GPs are in short supply.
And Royal College of GPs vice-chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “There is little or no evidence that referral management schemes are cost effective and they can damage patient care.
“We understand the difficult position CCGs are in – but our concern is that these schemes can undermine the important trust between GP and patient. If decisions are being made about patients in the absence of their full clinical records, we do have concerns about patient safety.”
NHS England claims it is merely sharing best practice.
A spokesman said: “Clinical peer reviews are a simple way for GPs to support each other and help patients get the best care, from the right person, at the right time without having to make unnecessary trips to hospital.
“More than half of CCGs have already implemented some peer review system – and the latest NHS England guidance will help ensure best practice is shared to remaining local commissioners.”