Moves to save NHS cash by reducing the number of ‘ghost patients’ on GPs’ lists will put more pressure on already struggling doctors, says the chairman of Sunderland’s health watchdog.
Under a new scheme, patients who do not visit their GP for five years will be sent two letters and those who do not respond can be removed from the practice list.
The move is aimed at cutting excess spending - GPs are paid an average of about £136 per registered patient, even if they never see them.
Healthwatch Sunderland chairman Kevin Morris said: “Previous attempts to ‘cleanse’ the list have resulted in a number of patients being removed incorrectly. I think it will affect some of the most vulnerable people.
“It is also very apparent that it is a cost-cutting exercise - they are looking to save money at a time when GP surgeries, certainly in Sunderland, are under a lot of pressure.
“The additional administrative burden will also take up precious time that should be devoted to treating and serving the people of Sunderland.”
Mr Morris said he feared the five-year deadline would unfairly affect younger patients.
“I know that at certain stages of my life, I went five years without going to see a doctor. This would significantly impact upon the young, who might only tend to go and use the GP surgery when something serious is the matter with them but who, by and large, are very healthy.
“There must be more effective ways to remove people who don’t exist.”
NHS England has employed Capita to find out which patients can be removed from lists.