PERFORMANCE: The medical directors of NHS South West London have asked GPs in the cluster not to refer some patients to St George’s Healthcare Trust because of a waiting times backlog.

A letter to GPs leaked to HSJ said the trust had breached the 18-week referral to treatment time target in some specialties and provided a list of alternative providers to refer to.

The letter said the cluster was asking GPs to refer to other providers until January 2013 in five specialties to let the waiting lists return to “a sustainable basis”.

The specialties are Upper GI surgery, bariatric surgery, spinal surgery, ENT and gynaecology.

It said: “The problems date back to the introduction of a new patient reporting system at the trust which caused prolonged disruption to waiting list managament.”

It added: “The difficulties are compoundded because the hospital is busy (major trauma centre, hyper acutestroke unit, sector hub for several specialties) and populat with patients and GPs.”

The alternatives suggested included Croydon Health Services Trust, West Middlesex University Hospital Trust, Kingston Hospital Trust and private facilities including BMI.

Sutton Council, which is served by St George’s and neighbouring trust Epsom and St Helier, said the news cast doubt over the viability of plans to downgrade St Helier.

Cllr Colin Stears, Chair of Sutton Council’s Adult Social Services and Health Committee, said: “This is very worrying. If St George’s cannot cope now how could it possibly deal with the extra patients it would receive if the plan to close St Helier hospital’s A&E, maternity and children’s wards actually went ahead?

“It is yet another reason for the Better Services Better Value [service review] to go back to the drawing board and come up with a workable proposal.”

In a statement Tom Coffey, Wandsworth GP and chair of the St George’s Hospital clinical quality review group said: “We have been working with St George’s for some time now to support them in achieving the referral to treatment targets in all specialties and we will continue to do so. 

“We believe that giving our patients the choice of an alternative provider and a shorter wait is a sensible approach as long as this is clinically appropriate, in the individual patient’s best interest and, importantly, the patient is happy to proceed on this basis.  It will make sure patients are treated more quickly whilst helping St George’s bring their waiting lists down.”

A spokesman for St George’s said: “Last year St George’s met the referral to treatment in 18 weeks standards for both admitted and non-admitted patients. Meeting these targets represents a major improvement from where the trust was only a few years ago and demonstrates that even for more complex referrals we are providing timely access to clinics, diagnostics and treatment.”

“A plan has been developed with our clinical commissioners to help us address some of the short-term capacity issues the trust currently faces with a few specialist treatments which are very popular with patients and GPs from across south west London and Surrey.”