AN NHS body has promised it does not give GP practices money in return for not referring patients to hospital.

It comes after it was revealed others in the country offer the service.

Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group made the announcement following an investigation by Pulse, a publication for GPs, which found 11 CCGs were entering into profit-sharing agreements with GPs that refer fewer patients to hospitals.

As part of the investigation, NHS Coastal West Sussex CCG said it was offering a number of practices 50 per cent of savings made through not referring patients to hospitals from the previous year.

In a statement, a Brighton and Hove CCG spokesman said: “We do not incentivise GPs not to refer patients to hospital but we do work closely with them to make sure that everyone who is referred is done so appropriately.

“We recognise that referring to hospital is not always the best for patients and that sometimes it is more appropriate for

ongoing care to take place elsewhere.

“Brighton and Hove GPs have access to advice and guidance from hospital consultants which often results in a much quicker answer for patients and can avoid unnecessary referrals to hospital.”

The CCGs offering the service have received widespread criticism for reducing referrals in an attempt to help NHS bodies stick to their budgets.

More than 180,000 people have signed a 38 Degrees petition calling on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to bring an end to these services, denouncing the use of “financial incentives or arbitrary targets to reduce GP referrals”.

The petition states: “When you walk into your doctor’s office, you want to know your GP is only thinking about giving you the care you need, not the money they can save or the targets they have to hit.

“This plan is dangerous.”

Peter Swinyard, chairman of the Family Doctor Association, told The Guardian: “From a patient perspective it means GPs are paid to not look after them.

“It’s a serious dereliction of duty, influenced by CCGs trying to balance their books.”

NHS Coastal West Sussex CCG has defended giving some of the savings made through non-referrals to GP surgeries, saying any patient who needs a referral will be sent for the treatment and support they need.

Dr Jeremy Mayhew, clinical lead for primary care at the CCG, said money saved is being invested in improving patient care through schemes led by practice groups and that no GPs receive payment, either directly or indirectly.