Private healthcare providers have welcomed Rishi Sunak’s bid to raise NHS patients’ awareness of their right to opt for independent doctor treatments.
Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN) chief executive David Hare called the Prime Minister’s publicity campaign ‘good news’, while the Royal College of Surgeons of England said it backed short-term use of the private sector.
Mr Sunak’s plans to cut waiting lists would offer patients use of the NHS app to choose from NHS or independent providers.
He said: ‘Currently, just one-in-ten 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.’
Mr Hare responded: ‘We know many patients want to be given a choice, as it can dramatically reduce their wait for NHS care. But too often patients are unclear that they have the right to choose a healthcare provider to deliver their NHS care – whether an NHS organisation or an independent sector one – free at the point of use.
‘Delivering new ways for patients to use the NHS App to choose and progress their care is a very exciting development.’
‘It’s great to see this functionality and capability being rolled out. Millions of people downloaded the app during the pandemic, so using this technology will really help modernise how we access healthcare, putting control into the hands of patients themselves.’
After consulting their GP, patients will be able to view information for up to five healthcare providers in the same region. They can then choose where they go for treatment using the NHS App or website.
Patients Association chief executive Rachel Power said: ‘We hope this announcement will make it easier for patients in England to use their long-established right to choose where they receive their care.
‘Work we’ve done shows patients’ awareness of choice is not high, nor are many offered choice regularly.
‘Earlier this year, our survey of patients’ experience of healthcare found around only one-in-six patients we questioned had been given the opportunity to choose where they had their hospital care.’
Prof Neil Mortensen
Royal College of Surgeons of England president Prof Neil Mortensen said the plan should speed up access to operations and help tackle the backlog.
But he warned the need to increase NHS surgical capacity remained. He said: ‘We support the use of the independent sector in the short term to help tackle the backlog, but it cannot be a permanent fix.
‘We need more operating theatres, as well as nursing and anaesthetic staff to support surgeons. NHS trusts must also ensure that training opportunities are still provided for surgical trainees when operations move to the independent sector.’