Hospital referral waiting time to rise

Waiting times between GP referrals and hospital appointments will rise to the 18- week maximum as Yarmouth and Waveney health chiefs try to save up to £10m.

Waiting times between GP referrals and hospital appointments will rise to the 18- week maximum as Yarmouth and Waveney health chiefs try to save up to £10m.

Members of the Yarmouth and Waveney PCT board were told on Wednesday that this was one of several ideas and measures designed to bring down costs.

Others included changing the way inhalers were prescribed and introducing a new computer system to let GPs get a price comparison on medication.

Bernard Williamson, PCT chairman, said that in 2007-08, the trust would claw back its historic debt as well as its 2006-07 overspend.

“We are not keen to break even - we are going to break even,” he said. “There will be structural change required. Some savings will be made by having equity across the patch, where we currently provide in some areas but not in others.”

The PCT has to find £6m-£10m in savings to break even by March 2008, with accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers having been called in to help.

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James Elliot, director of commissioning and planning, told the meeting this meant making difficult decisions.

“If we are going to achieve the savings we want to achieve, we will have to make tough choices,” he said. “It includes moving to the maximum waiting time of 18 weeks for GP-to-consultant referrals.

“We also have to plan for the strategic health authority (SHA) asking us for 1pc of our baseline budget going to reserves for the SHA,” he added. “That would take the amount we have in reserves to £9.9m.”

The PCT was launched in October after a vocal campaign by patients, PCT officials and medical professionals in the Yarmouth and Waveney areas to keep healthcare local.

But despite having relatively low debts, the poor state of the regional health economy led to the SHA giving Yarmouth and Waveney PCT a share of the debt accumulated across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.