Patients are being forced to go to private hospitals for outpatient appointments because no NHS ones are available, Huddersfield’s top GP has claimed.

Dr Steve Ollerton, chairman of Greater Huddersfield Clinical Commissioning Group (GHCCG), says a lack of availability at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary (HRI) and Calderdale Royal Hospital (CRH) has been a problem for months and has said the system must improve.

Dr Ollerton, also a part-time GP in Skelmanthorpe, made the comments in reference to the NHS ‘Choose and Book’ system.

The system, launched in 2006 by the Labour government, allows patients to pick which hospital or health centre they are seen at following a referral from their GP.

Health chiefs must offer a range of choices, including private providers contracted to the NHS, sometimes out of the patient’s immediate area.

The ‘free choice’ of provider was written into the NHS constitution in 2009.

Huddersfield Royal Infirmary in Lindley
Huddersfield Royal Infirmary in Lindley
 

But Dr Ollerton said he did not think there was a choice for Huddersfield patients anymore as HRI and CRH were rarely able to match the availability of the private providers.

He said if patients did want to be seen by the NHS-run hospitals they had “the lottery” of waiting for a slot.

Dr Judith Parker, a GP member of the GHCCG Governing Body, backed the claim and said the system was not working.

She said patients who were chasing up appointments with HRI and CRH were being told to go back to their GP practice, creating extra work for secretarial staff.

Speaking at the GHCCG monthly Governing Body Public Meeting, Dr Ollerton said the region’s two hospitals had struggled to offer appointments for some time, despite a previous warning from the CCG, which finances the majority of NHS services.

Board members agreed to write to Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust (CHFT) to re-assert their demands for improvement.

In Huddersfield, patients can choose to go to BMI Hospital at Birkby or Spire at Elland, depending on the speciality or nature of their health problem.

Figures reveal that GHCCG spending at BMI has surged to 26% (£68,000) more than planned 2014/15, just three months into the financial year.

Huddersfield health chiefs planned to spend £3.2m at the Birkby Hall Road hospital this year.

CHFT board papers reveal that problems recruiting senior consultants is at the heart of the problem.

They say two candidates for opthalmology consultant roles withdrew before their interviews.

Existing consultants are working overtime and one off on maternity leave is due back next month.

A spokeswoman said: “In line with other Trusts across West Yorkshire, we are experiencing issues with appointments available through choose and book in three specialities – orthopaedics, ophthalmology and ENT (ear, nose and throat) – and this has been reported to our Board each month.

“We have been working with our colleagues in the CCG to resolve these issues as soon as we can.

“We continue to achieve the 18 week waiting time across all our services.”

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