Top doctors in London’s prestigious Harley Street have slammed a cost-cutting decision taken by three medical insurers to centralise pathology services.
Guardian and Prime Health took the decision in December to make consultants use the services of Pathology Management Company (PMC). The initiative will come into effect for Norwich Union from 1 January.
Consultants must now send medical samples to PMC for testing, which will act as a central clearing house.
In a letter to the insurance companies, one of the angry doctors, Dr Barrington Cooper said: “You are competing with state bureaucracies in the restriction of doctors’ clinical freedom and indirectly freedom of choice on the part of patients –your clients.”
Dr Geoffrey Mitchell, chairman of the Independent Doctors’ Forum (IDF), a 350-strong body representing private GPs and consultants, said: “It is a complete change in the way doctors practice medicine.”
But insurers have stressed the new initiative will not encroach on doctors’ clinical decisions.
Louise Zucchi, spokeswoman for Norwich Union said: “It is as much about quality of service as it is about cost effectiveness. It is not our intention to interfere with the decision making of doctors.”
Peter Dalby, managing director of Prime Health said: “We are working alongside some other insurers in a common drive to obtain value for money and a very high service for our customers.”
Dr Robert Hangartner, chief medical officer for Guardian said: “By curbing spiralling charges for pathology testing we are ensuring savings can be translated back to the customer.”
Michael Smith, managing director of PMS added: “We have 86 labs that are locked into a national network sending special work to special laboratories. We have said we don’t want to antagonise consultants. We’re also more than happy to liaise with their pathologists.”
A private GP who did not want to be named said: “I don’t see why PMC should muscle in and get an intermediary fee. If the insurers will not pay for the lab I use, then patients will not get their money back. If there is no alternative then I will have to use them to protect my patients’ financial welfare.”