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Hospital trust criticised for limiting heart treatment

Oxford Radcliffe trust blames rising NHS costs for its decision to remove patients from waiting list

One of the UK's top 'teaching hospitals' has received criticism from its own staff, leading cardiologists and a cross-section of politicians for removing up to 100 patients from its waiting list, refusing them a treatment successfully received by Tony Blair last year for an irregular heartbeat.

The Oxford Radcliffe Trust has stopped offering a cardiac catheter ablation to people that it judges are not a 'high priority'. The treatment, which is often successful in controlling heart arrhythmia, has become the first of the high profile cost-cutting exercises brought about by the NHS' need to balance its books, and an uncertain relationship with the private sector.

The hospital and its local PCT argue that the £2,000 paid to it by the NHS for the procedure under the national 'tariff' does not cover its costs, which it estimates to be £4,000 per operation. With a projected deficit of ?15 million for this year, the Radcliffe claims it can no longer afford to pay for the treatment.

Adam Fitzpatrick of the charity, Arrhythmia Alliance, whose national survey priced simple procedures at £4,500 and difficult ones at up to £9,000, has backed up the hospital's claims.

Despite its costs, advocates of the procedure say it more than pays for itself. A successful operation can mean an end to a lifetime of medical and hospital treatment, bringing all the associated savings to the NHS.

Dr Roger Boyle, the government's national director for heart disease, strongly criticised the Radcliffe's move despite acknowledging funding problems. He told the Financial Times that problems with the 'tariff' were ìno excuse for taking people off waiting lists, however bad the financial problem in the locality.î

Dr Evan Harris, local MP and former Liberal Democrat health spokesman, claimed that the hospital had spent £100,000 treating patients in the private sector, paying £7,500 a time. He told the Financial Times: ìthe NHS won't pay the Radcliffe more than £2,000 per case but it can pay whatever it likes to the private sector. It is just one way that the private sector makes a mint out of stupid NHS targets.î

Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, deflected criticism on to the hospital. She denied that her national 'tariff' and promise to reduce waiting lists were to blame.

ìUnfortunately, the NHS in Oxford - including the Radcliffe - has been overspending,î she said. ìThey are having to deal with that situation.î

Her comments sparked a strong reaction from politicians. Shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley, blamed the government for forcing the situation upon the NHS. He told BBC News: ìIt's the government's responsibility to ensure that the reforms are introduced in a way that doesn't lead to services being cut back. It is not good enough for Patricia Hewitt simply to shirk responsibility and say it's a matter for local authorities.î

30th September 2008

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