MAJOR hospitals in Scotland are to stop operations on certain patients to save money.

 The country’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC), proposes cutting back on “low health-gain” treatments and tests as it grapples with a £55 million deficit, sparking fears about a postcode lottery for patients.

The removal of tonsils, varicose veins and “minor” lumps are among the procedures it wants to scale back to save money.

But patients groups expressed grave concern at the move, saying it could mean people having to live with discomfort and serious health problems being missed.

Dr Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “All of these procedures are important if you really need them. With minor lumps, you can cannot tell they are minor until you have removed them and looked at them.

“With varicose veins, you would only refer someone to hospital if the person had aching limbs. I do not think anyone from the health board should be laying down the law. It is a question of how significant it is to the patient and then the clinician being able to decide.”

Dr Alan McDevitt, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s Scottish General Practitioners’ Committee, said GPs had not been consulted on the proposals and would want to be given the evidence for stopping procedures and the alternatives.

He added: “If we are saying we do not think the NHS should be funding this, it should be a national debate about what is available.

“Inevitably the more devolved decisions we have in health care, the more likely we are to have postcode variation.”

Under the Glasgow plan GPs and consultants would add only the more serious cases to waiting lists but targets set by the Scottish Government would still have to be met.

NHS GGC received a 1% increase in its budget for 2011-12. Earlier this year, chief executive Robert Calderwood indicated that as bills for prescription drugs, energy, incremental pay rises and other costs were rising more steeply, there would not be enough cash for the NHS to keep doing everything it does at the moment.

A raft of proposals to make the required £55m savings is due to go before the NHS GGC board later this month and reducing “low health-gain” procedures is among them. Grommets inserted to clear glue ear and D&Cs, for diagnosing gynaecological problems, are also on the list of targets.

If the board agrees, it is understood NHS GGC would start cutting back the number of procedures from the start of 2012. It anticipates saving £123,000 a year.

In 2010 NHS GGC performed 1824 tonsillectomies, 1042 grommet insertions, 445 D&Cs and 1007 varicose vein operations. Other major boards including NHS Lothian, NHS Tayside and NHS Grampian say they are not going down this path -- sparking concerns treatment will be available in some regions of Scotland but not others.

Asked about the GGC Board proposals, NHS Highland said it was not taking this further “as yet”. NHS Fife said it had been reviewing low health gain procedures for two years in pursuit of good clinical care rather than savings.

A spokeswoman for NHS GGC confirmed they were seeking to save 3.1% of their revenue budget. She said: “Our proposals to achieve these efficiency savings, which we are in the process of finalising, will be delivered to our board on June 28 for approval.

“This tough efficiency target can only be achieved by re-examining everything we do as we have no alternative but to find more economic ways of delivering health care while at the same time improving quality of service and improved access targets.”

She added that reducing low health gain procedures had been brought forward in response to guidance issued by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice) in England on the effectiveness of treatments and claimed other health boards were acting on the same advice.