Doctors urged to back matching scheme to allocate NHS patients to private hospitals

Doctors are being urged by private hospitals to get behind a new online ‘matching’ platform aiming to quickly allocate NHS patients to hospitals who can take on their care.

An ‘easy-to-use tool’ announced by NHS England (NHSE) allows NHS staff to view and add available surgery slots in hospitals across the country, including independent providers.

The development was welcomed by the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN), which hailed it as a good example of how the private sector and NHS could work together to cut waiting times and get patients seen faster.

David Furness

David Furness, its director of policy and delivery, said: ‘We encourage trusts and clinicians to fully explore this new option, sharing intelligence and information so that the right providers can be offered to provide the right care.’

Clinical teams can upload details of patients on their waiting list who are willing to travel, with other NHS and independent sector providers able to log on and ‘match’ people up to treatment. 

Now including diagnostic checks

Initially introduced for patients needing a hospital admission, the platform will now expand to include cancer, diagnostic checks, and outpatient appointments. Around four-in-five patients on an NHS waiting list won’t need a hospital admission.

Since its launch in January, more than 1,700 offers of support have been made with thousands of patients set to benefit as the platform grows, the NHSE reported. 

The system includes patient information – how far the patient is willing to travel, illness severity, BMI, and how long they have been waiting for care – to help organisations decide if they can pick up a case. 

If more than one provider offers treatment, the options are put to the patient who can choose based on factors including how far they would have to travel.

Civica Medical Billing

Gynaecology, colorectal and trauma and orthopaedics are the top three specialties to have benefited so far, but hundreds of different treatments or appointments can be uploaded.

Easier for patients

Patients Association chief executive Rachel Power said: ‘We welcome the expansion of the hospital matching platform and think it will make it even easier for patients and the healthcare professional to make a decision together about where to have treatment or a test. 

‘Patient choice has been a right for over decade, but not all patients are aware they have the right and it isn’t always offered to them. Hopefully, making it easy for health professionals to easily see the choices of where patients can be treated will increase the number of patients who can take advantage of mutual aid within the NHS.’

The NHSE said the new platform was just one example of how the NHS was maximising all available health sector capacity to support elective recovery. Use of the independent sector had risen by over a third since 2021 – from 65,000 appointments and procedures a week to more than 90,000 a week now.

Prepared to travel

The IHPN and the Patients Association research last year showed that people were prepared to travel if it meant faster treatment.

73% of patients said they would be happy to travel more than 30 minutes to get treatment more quickly. The IHPN said weeks of months could be knocked off potential waits by travelling further.

The NHSE announcement follows another earlier in August, from the Government’s elective recovery task force, about the importance of patient choice and closer partnership working between private healthcare and the NHS in cutting waiting times.