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Big rise in delayed GP referrals sparks safety warning

A big rise in GP referrals being deferred because no appointment slots are available, in the wake of the covid pandemic, has sparked concerns that patients are going undiagnosed and missing out on the correct treatment.

Outpatient referrals are typically classed as having an “appointment slot issue” when no booking slot is available within a timeframe specified by the provider, under the NHS e-referral system.

The latest NHS Digital figures, analysed by HSJ, show the number of ASIs was 52% higher in March 2022 than February 2020 — up from 245,582 to 374,209. 

The statistics suggests appointment slot issue accounted for 77% of all bookings in March 2022, 26% of all referrals and 19% of bookings and referrals combined. In February 2020, this was 32%, 17% and 11% respectively.

The Royal College of GPs told HSJ there was a risk of patients “simply disappearing” off lists if the issue was not properly managed, while charity Patient Safety Learning said the issue was a “growing problem” which NHS England must “urgently investigate”.

Patient Safety Learning chief executive Helen Hughes said: “NHS England needs to urgently investigate, quantify the scale of the problem and take action if we are to prevent these capacity problems resulting in avoidable harm for patients.

“Patients who cannot access outpatient services may deteriorate further while they wait for care, and it is not clear that in these cases there is the appropriate support available for them. There is also the potential for patients to be misdiagnosed and receive inappropriate treatment without specialist involvement, and the potential of a postcode lottery of care emerging for some conditions.”

Read full story (paywalled)

Source: HSJ, 6 May 2022

Read Patient Safety Learning's blog: Rejected outpatient referrals are putting patients at risk and increasing workload pressure on GPs


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