A recent investigation has found that up to 35,000 patients have been wrongly struck off GP registers in the last year as a result of NHS cost-cutting exercises targeting the elderly and vulnerable.
According to doctors, patients are increasingly being denied vital check-ups, cancer screening and suffering delays obtaining medication because of botched attempts by authorities to update records and reduce practice funding.
Official figures have shown that in some parts of the country more than one third of patients were deleted from patient lists. In some cases, failings meant women went years without screening for cervical cancer, doctors said. In others, attempts were made to stop monitoring children who had been identified as at risk of neglect or abuse.
NHS figures disclose that since April 2013, 14% of patients who were deleted from lists – ostensibly because they were thought to have died, or moved to a different area – were reinstated after they or their GP protested. The figures are the first to show the results of a programme begun by NHS England in May 2013 to validate practice lists in order to reduce the number of so-called “ghost patients” registered i.e those who have died or moved out of the area.
Separate investigations have found that in some practices, hundreds of patients have been removed from lists by the practices themselves, and told to register elsewhere, because GPs said they were too over-stretched to cope. In one example, a practice deregistered a nursing home of 59 residents, many with dementia, because it said their doctors could not cope with the workload.
NHS England’s programme is intended to save the NHS £85m, by ensuring GP practices are only funded for their current patients. The programme specifically targets elderly patients, in a bid to remove those who have died from lists, children and others who do not attend their vaccination appointments.
GPs said that the scheme has caused problems. One GP said that many of her patients had wrongly been removed from her patient list by NHS authorities. She said: “Patients were very distressed at being removed. Sometimes there are angry scenes at reception, which is a distressing situation for everyone.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “NHS England takes all possible steps it can to contact patients and minimise the number who need to re-register – but there will always be some circumstances where patients do not respond and at that point we have to assume that they have moved away from that address and are therefore not in reality receiving services from that GP.”