The drive to make the National Health Service more effective in a bid to save billions of pounds is starting to affect frontline services, despite politicians’ previous assurances to the contrary, a new survey has revealed.

More than half of the 370 GPs responding to a survey by Pulse magazine have reported cuts to frontline NHS services in their areas, following the government’s call for the health service to garner efficiency savings of £15-£20 billion over the next three years, at a time when cash flow is receding.

An additional 31% of responders said cuts were on the agenda in their regions, with areas such as health visiting and palliative care bearing the brunt, while just 13% were unaware of any services reductions planned by their primary care trusts, according to the survey.

GP Krishna Chaturvedi, who is based in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, told the paper that, in his area, a weekly practice-based health visitor had been removed and phlebotomy services for the elderly and infirm had been scaled back, in addition to cuts in community and palliative care nursing, as well as dietetic and nutrition services, illustrating the wide spectrum of service reductions.

Furthermore, a recent investigation by Pulse revealed that the large majority of PCTs - 86% - are looking to farm out certain services from hospitals into the community to help build savings, but GPs are seriously questioning the ability of primary care to cope with such a huge shift in workload.

While 54% of family doctors support the principle of shifting some hospital services into the community, only 12% felt primary care would have the means to cope, Pulse’s survey revealed, fuelling concerns over the potentially detrimental impact to patient care.

Cuts could be ‘disasterous’
Commenting on the finding’s, Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the British Medical Association, said it makes sense for some services currently based in hospitals to be transferred into the community, but only if the primary care sector has the capacity and resources to deal with them.

However, he stressed that while the financial challenges currently facing the NHS are considerable, “cutting clinical staff or frontline services would be disastrous”.

“It is unacceptable that important local services are being cut when huge amounts of money have been spent on poor-value contracts with private providers,” he said, and added that politicians should focus on dumping the expensive and bureaucratic market model of the NHS instead.