A local medical committee has taken the unprecedented step of warning local GPs to consider whether an independent treatment centre is the right choice for their patients.

Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMC emailed GPs after the local optical committee raised concerns about the lack of follow up for patients referred to the Surgicentre based at East and North Hertfordshire Trust’s Lister Hospital.

The LMC - which took legal advice on the wording of the email - does not tell GPs to avoid referrals to the Surgicentre but merely says they should consider whether it is the right choice. The warning only refers to ophthalmic facilities at the centre, which has been plagued by waiting list problems since it opened last year. Although based at the Lister Hospital, it is run by Clinicenta, part of the Carillion group.

Peter Graves, LMC chief executive, said GPs had a duty of care to their patients. The problems appeared to be administrative and there was no criticism of the quality of clinical staff but the difficulties were impacting on clinical care, he said.

“We have waited nine months for the Clinicenta to change. The [primary care trust] has worked extremely hard to try to sort the problem out and is continuing to do so,” he added.

Andrew Merry, vice chair of the optical committee, said the problems started soon after the centre opened last year when it became obvious patients were not being recalled at the expected intervals. “Myself and a number of other practitioners were getting a stream of patients saying they were not being recalled at appropriate times,” he said. The problems had appeared to ease recently, he said.

Regular checks are important for some eye conditions, such as glaucoma where the patient may not realise they are deteriorating, he added.

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland said: “I am not surprised by the local medical committee decision, but I would like to reassure local people that the quality of care from the staff is first class. The problem is accessing the treatments and follow up appointments as ClinicentreCarillion have demonstrated they are just not up to the job.
“Last week I met with the chief executive of Carillion PLC, which owns and manages the Surgicentre, and I told them very clearly that they had lost the confidence of both the local community and medical professionals.”
A report from the East and North Hertfordshire clinical commissioning group at last week’s NHS Hertfordshire board meeting said there had been “a number of patient safety concerns” and the PCT was considering all its options in relation to performance management of the centre. Where appropriate it has sought external professional advice.

A spokeswoman for Carillion said that since the centre had opened ophthalmology patient volumes had exceeded the levels commissioned for, by 20 per cent.

“Despite these activity levels a number of patients have experienced delays to follow-up appointments. To address this, additional clinics have been organised and an additional 2,400 appointments have been scheduled prior to the end of August.

“This is a service that has been under pressure for some considerable time and we are keen to work with the PCTs, GPs and opticians to manage capacity and demand in the most appropriate way for the patients of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.”