In an effort to address long hospital waiting times, patients will be granted more choice and greater control over their healthcare, including through the NHS App.
The app and website will provide patients with different provider information, empowering them to make informed decisions about where to seek treatment. Research demonstrates that offering patients choice can lead to substantial reductions in waiting times, aligning with the Prime Minister’s commitment to cut waiting lists.
Under new plans, patients will have the opportunity to select their preferred NHS care provider, marking a significant step towards achieving one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities.
According to a recent NHS announcement, patients will now be offered the opportunity to exercise choice when it is clinically appropriate. After consulting with their GP, patients will have access to information about a minimum of five providers, including details on waiting times, travel distance, and quality measures. Armed with this information, patients can make an informed decision about their treatment destination, leveraging the user-friendly NHS App or website based on their individual circumstances.
Presently, only 1 in 10 patients exercise their right to choose, but research suggests that this choice could potentially reduce waiting times by up to three months by selecting an alternative hospital within the same region. During the pandemic, millions of individuals downloaded the NHS App to access various services, such as the NHS COVID Pass. The newly announced plans aim to expand the functionality of the NHS App and website, enabling patients to make more informed decisions about their care. Additionally, updated software and IT systems will streamline the process for GPs when referring patients for treatment, ensuring a smoother experience overall.
The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said:
“Empowering patients to choose where they receive treatment will help cut waiting lists, one of my 5 key priorities.
“Currently, just one in 10 patients make a choice about where they receive care. We want to change that by helping the NHS to offer patients a real choice while also giving patients the information they need to decide.
“Our aim is to create an NHS built around patients, where everyone has more control over the care they receive, wherever they live or whatever their health needs are”.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:
“Every patient should be able to easily choose where they go to receive treatment and today’s package will put that power in their hands.
“Millions of people downloaded the NHS App during the pandemic. Increasing use of this fantastic resource will enable them to exercise more choice and get access to essential information about the options for their care including journey time, length of wait and quality of service – all at the swipe of a smartphone screen.
“This will not only give patients more control over their own care but could also wipe months off their wait by finding a hospital or clinic with a shorter waiting list.
“Cutting waiting times is one of the government top 5 priorities and we are already making progress to tackle the backlog and are rolling out community diagnostic centres and surgical hubs to boost the numbers of tests, scans and operations.”
Starting from October, patients who have been on waiting lists for over 40 weeks without a treatment date will have the opportunity to benefit. They will be asked whether they would like to consider switching hospitals, including those with shorter waiting times, if it is clinically appropriate and feasible. This initiative builds upon the existing NHS “mutual aid” arrangements among hospital trusts, fostering collaboration and resource optimization.
As the NHS makes steady progress in addressing the backlog, the 40-week threshold may be gradually reduced based on clinical advice, with the ultimate goal of reaching 18 weeks as soon as possible.
To further promote patient engagement, a new public awareness campaign will be launched, encouraging individuals to exercise their right to choose. Additionally, GP practices have received guidance to assist them in offering choice, with training opportunities available to familiarise practitioners with IT systems for seamless referral processes.