Top doctors ‘given secret bonuses to refer private patients to major hospital groups’

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Doctors were given secret six-figure sums to refer private patients to major hospital providers, it is claimed today.

The BMJ (British Medical Journal) said the payments were not disclosed to patients and appeared to contravene General Medical Council (GMC) guidance.

It calls for a public register of all doctors’ financial and commercial interests, claiming the GMC failed to act despite receiving evidence of widespread payments to consultants mainly in London.

Their claims are based on an investigation by an unnamed major health insurance company, which uncovered “covert” schemes often worth “tens of thousands” of pounds, with some payments exceeding six figures.

The BMJ has learned the apparently widespread practice first came to light during an internal investigation launched by the insurance company in 2011.

Records showed that many independent practices were housed in expensive London properties among them in Harley Street owned by private hospital groups.

The Competition and Markets Authority issued an order last year to prohibit inducement schemes but some hospitals are said to be continuing to “buy” referrals.

BMJ Editor in Chief, Fiona Godlee, called for all UK doctors’ financial interests to be included in a publicly available register.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said it had issued clear guidance that doctors must not allow any interests to affect the way they “prescribe for, treat, refer or commission services for patients”.

“We will shortly be writing to all independent healthcare providers and their responsible officers seeking assurances from them that they are not putting their doctors in a position where they could be acting outside our guidance,” he said.