The NHS has been criticised over its controversial use of referral management centres, with the NHS spending millions of pounds on private firms that typically assess whether a patient requires a hospital referral.


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Many clinical commission groups (CCGs) use the service to determine whether a patient requires a referral, which has usually been actioned by their family doctor. The NHS says this can help to stop any unnecessary referrals, thereby freeing up the system for those who really need it; however, critics are asking at what cost and whether this intervention can slow down the diagnosis of potential illnesses.

Effective cost-saving measures?

Critics have also voiced concerns over whether a referral centre is indeed a cost-effective way to determine whether a patient requires a referral. At a time when the NHS is struggling with budgets, the millions of pounds spent on the use of an assessment centre is questionable; however, supporters argue that this can be a highly-effective way of saving money, as it can potentially capture any unnecessary referrals.

Of the 184 CCGs that responded to a freedom of information request from the British Medical Journal (BMJ), 39 per cent (72) confirmed that they commissioned referral management schemes of some kind. The BMJ also revealed that some of the clinical commissioning groups were not using the schemes to save money; instead, they were used to increase the quality of the referrals. Whilst some CCGs had data in relation to cost savings, others were unable to supply any evidence to demonstrate any cost-saving incentives.

The benefits of a pharmaceutical consulting company

A pharmaceutical consulting company such as can play a very important role in the effective management of referral centres. Quality clinical staffing that focuses on the customer needs and aims to deliver a professional and speedy assessment is extremely important if the use of referral centres is to be managed successfully.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy-chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP commitee, told the British Medical Journal: “It is a very short-term approach to healthcare management. We need to see much more evaluation and not just keep making the same mistakes year after year.” He did feel that some schemes were useful, giving GPs rapid access to advice from specialists; however, many critics maintain that the scheme requires more thorough evaluation.

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Alleen Wright