GP leaders have called the decision by St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to suspend the non-urgent referral of patients to local hospitals for financial reasons as "unacceptable" and urged the government to step in to resolve the crisis.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee deputy chair, said: “This is an unacceptable decision which highlights the incredible financial pressure facing general practice and its impact on patient care.
“It cannot be right that the public will be effectively denied access to healthcare because the local CCG has run out of money.
“What apparently may not be urgent at first presentation and is therefore not referred could turn out to be very serious in the long term.
“Many cases of cancer are subsequently diagnosed following routine referrals of patients who have undifferentiated symptoms early on in their illness.
“The cost to the health service of delaying referrals could ultimately be much greater in the long term as more complex and costly problems develop as a result.
“This is yet another sign of how desperately under-funded the NHS now is and how the government need to step up their commitment to resolving this crisis.”