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Patients unaware of supposed 'choice'

Most people have no idea about the government's new choice in hospital care policy — which may not be a bad thing as few doctors seem to think it will improve patient care.

Patients can now choose from at least four hospitals or clinics for non-emergency treatment. But, according to a Mori poll of over-40s, 4 out of 5 people 80% knew little, if anything, about the changes. In the survey, conducted on behalf of the Department of Health, only 4% of respondants said they knew a great deal about the policy.

Respondants said they would travel within their strategic health authority area, if it could deliver treatment in HALF the time of their nearest NHS provider. But many people preferred to wait for treatment at their local hospital rather than travel to a private hospital.

The director of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, Alison Kitson, told the BBC that while nurses advocated the principle of choice, in reality GPs had insufficient time to research the information required for patients.

The reforms could in fact 'effectively erode choice for patients', she said, as the most popular hospitals become overwhelmed, while the least popular could face closure.

 Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GPs Committee, said that there had always been some choice for patients and that out of date information would benot enhance that. 'GPs have always discussed choice when referring patients to secondary care. It's part of being a family doctor to talk with our patients about the need for a referral and where they might go. So it's wrong to imply there has been no choice in the past.

'Over the past 10 years or so, successive governments have tended to limit choice by mechanisms such as extra contractual referrals, making it more difficult to give patients the full range of choice of hospitals they might want.'

On the information sources outlining the hospital choice on offer , Dr Meldrum said: 'While we welcome anything that gives patients more information about possible services, in order to avoid being misleading that information must always be kept accurate and up to date.'

Dr Meldrum also pointed out that in many parts of the country the electronic Choose and Book system was not fully operational.

The government is planning to extend the choice initiative so that by 2008 patients can choose from 'any hospital or provider which meets NHS standards at NHS costs'.

Page created on January 2nd, 2006

Page updated on December 1st, 2009