Doctors at a Yorkshire GP practice are facing “urgent” questions from health chiefs after patients waiting for minor operations on the NHS were told that they could only be treated if they paid.
The Haxby Group Practice wrote to patients and invited them to pay up to £243 for skin surgery which it claimed was no longer funded by their local primary care trust (PCT).
One of four companies it listed as offering the treatments is wholly owned by the practice, based at Haxby and Wigginton Health Centre, near York.
NHS North Yorkshire and York PCT bosses said they had “significant concerns” about the letter and were investigating.
The move has prompted fears GPs may face a conflict of interest by profiting personally from recommending private treatment to patients.
The letter from the practice’s managing partner, John McEvoy, was sent this summer and stated: “We are holding your details on a list of patients who require minor surgical procedure that is no longer paid for by the NHS.
“We have waited to see if the situation would alter but unfortunately... it appears not and we can no longer offer your procedure as one of our NHS services.”
The letter came with a leaflet listing prices for a “new private minor operation service” run by HBG Ltd, the company wholly owned by the practice.
NHS North Yorkshire and York medical director David Geddes said some of the listed procedures, including the treatment of viral warts and ingrowing toenails, were routinely commissioned.
“We have significant concerns about this letter from the practice, which we will be addressing with them directly and as a matter of urgency,” he said.
“We were not made aware of this letter in advance. Had we been consulted we would have advised against its release.
“Patients need to know that where we do not routinely commission services, we recognise there may be exceptions.
“If a GP feels there is particular clinical merit for a patient to receive such a treatment, they can request approval to be granted in exceptional circumstances from our individual funding panel.”
Doctors leaders yesterday repeated warnings that conflicts of interest could become more commonplace in future once the Health and Social Care Bill becomes law, when GPs will have control over as much as £80bn of NHS spending.
Leeds GP Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, said: “The dire finances of many PCTs means that many more NHS treatments are likely to become unavailable in the future. The BMA is very concerned by the potential conflicts of interest that this example exposes.”
Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “Once the Health and Social Care Bill becomes law – together with impact of the £20bn cuts – we believe that the boundary between what a GP offers under their NHS provision, and what is offered for a private fee, is in danger of becoming increasingly blurred.”
The Unite union’s national officer for health, Rachael Maskell, said: “Serious questions have to be asked about the use of data collected for NHS purposes now being used for energetic marketing. Is patient confidentiality, the bedrock of trust in the NHS, being compromised in the interests of private profit?”
Health Minister Paul Burstow said: “Patients’ confidential clinical information should not be used for marketing purposes.
“Whilst GPs may decide to provide private healthcare services, it is not appropriate for them to use information about patients collected through the delivery of NHS services to market private services.”
John McEvoy, from the Haxby practice, defended the move. He claimed patients had been left without a service and the letter outlined options available to them. Other private providers were listed alongside the practice’s own clinic.
“They had a choice to go elsewhere,” he added.