Bosses at a clinical commissioning group which proposed a particularly controversial policy have back down on the idea, ensuring that all non-urgent treatments will continue throughout the winter months.
St Helens CCG had mused that banning such treatments during the most demanding months for the NHS could be a viable policy going forward.
This was but one cost-cutting measure to be taken by the CCG in an attempt to reduce the financial deficit of the organisation.
Responding to the news, the General Practitioners Committee indicated that it was delighted that the CCG had listened to objections regarding this controversial proposal.
The GPC has suggested that serious illnesses could be wrongly diagnosed as a result of this policy, and there could be clinical consequences for physicians and consultants as well.
If non-urgent surgery was halted in a particular area,iIt would beg questions regarding the training of staff, keeping up with the latest developments in certain areas, and indeed gaining requisite practice in treating some conditions.
However, the CCG has decided to completely withdraw the policy following considerable negative feedback.
In a statement, the CCG indicated that “it is clear that one of the options, pausing non-urgent referrals, is not supported. For this reason, we are withdrawing this option.”
NHS St Helens CCG lay chair Mr Geoffrey Appleton reflected on the process that had led to the reversal of the decision.
“Since the consultation began we have been listening to and considering all the feedback we have received regarding our proposals. As a result of this we have taken the decision to withdraw it from the consultation. The financial challenges NHS St Helens CCG faces have not gone away and we will now be looking at other measures we can introduce to assist with the £12.5 million funding gap.”
Appleton confirmed that the process of seeking savings with the CCG would continue.
“We will continue to work with our partners in the local health system to identify other opportunities where savings can be made. This will undoubtedly still involve some tough decisions about what is affordable but we will continue to consult with local people on our new proposals and listen to their views.”
Deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey welcomed the news, but warned that the NHS still faces fundamental financial difficulties.
“We’re pleased to see St Helens CCG has listened to concerns from the BMA and others and made the right decision. This does not address the underlying problem, that investment in the NHS is not keeping up with demand.”
Despite the removal of the non-urgent policy, other suggestions intended to balance the books at St Helens will continue to progress.
Cutting back on prescriptions of over-the-counter medicines and gluten-free foods, as well as limiting access to IVF, will continue as planned until October.
St Helens CCG has been rated ‘inadequate’ by NHS England, in common with 25 other similar organisations in the healthcare system.
It has already been tasked with finding £30 million worth of savings over the next two financial years, and also delivering a 1% yearly budget surplus.
These two methods are considered key in enabling the CCG to deliver its statutory duty to achieve financial balance.