The financial interests of all UK doctors should be made public, the British Medical Journal has said, after an investigation revealed incentives, often worth tens of thousands of pounds, have been offered to doctors by private healthcare companies in exchange for referring patients to their hospitals.
The Independent reports that an investigation claims that the doctors’ regulator, the General Medical Council (GMC), failed to act on a warning in 2012 that the practice of offering incentives was "widespread, particularly in London, and significant in value". The regulator was told by a major insurance company about patients being "diverted to units in which doctors have financial interests". The company's investigation had uncovered a range of "covert" schemes, with some payments exceeding £100,000.
The insurance company which uncovered the practice following an internal investigation also discovered that some Harley Street practices were housed in expensive properties owned by private healthcare companies. The report has echoes of previous concerns about drug companies offering GPs inducements – including trips to conferences – to promote their new drugs.
GMC guidelines do set standards on conflicts of interest and prohibit doctors from accepting inducements, but the investigation said that they had shown "an unwillingness to act on possible breaches of these standards".
New rules banning so-called "cash for referrals" schemes and some other incentives in private healthcare were issued by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in October last year and will come into force in April. The new prohibitions came after a two-year investigation into the private health sector which found the practice of offering incentives for referrals was "widespread".
The GMC said it had been unable to take action over the insurance company’s misgivings because they had related to "general concerns" and "did not include any allegations of wrongdoing relating to individual doctors". However, the regulator will shortly be writing to all independent healthcare providers "seeking assurances from them that they are not putting their doctors in a position where they could be acting outside our guidance", said its CEO Niall Dickson.
[link url="http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/doctors-in-the-dock-scandal-of-gps-who-get-cash-from-healthcare-firms-for-patient-referrals-10009380.html"]Full report in The Independent[/link]
[link url="http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h396"]British Medical Journal investigation[/link]