Saturday, January 27, 2007

More NHS patient choice - but voice too please

It was good to read last week’s announcement by the Department of Health that there would be a major extension of patient choice. (An analysis is available on the website of the think tank Reform.)

NHS patients needing “elective” treatment like a hip replacement can currently choose from four local hospitals, 34 foundation trusts and 15 independent sector providers. The Department of Health’s roll-out of choice means that by the summer there will be over 200 hospitals and treatment centres on offer to patients. Then by the end of 2008, patients will be able to choose from any hospital which meets NHS standards and costs.

The Department of Health is also creating a new website that will bring together information on all hospitals and treatment centres to empower patients to make more informed choices than ever before on their healthcare. This is vital to make choice informed and meaningful.

Linked with Payment By Results, these changes mean that the best providers will be encouraged to expand and shorten waiting lists. It’s a shame that these changes have come in so late and after so much money was injected in the NHS.

Having said that, as I have argued before, there is still a need for patient choice to be supplemented by voice – particularly in the areas where there are fewer hospitals. This can be seen from a map below from the Centre of Market and Public Organisation’s study of Choice: Will more choice improve outcomes in Education and Health Care (pdf available).

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