Expansion of NHS patients’ choice welcomed by private sector

The private healthcare sector has given a big thumb-up to Government plans giving patients ‘the biggest expansion of choice in the NHS in a decade’ over where they are treated.

People requiring routine treatment outside of hospitals will be able to choose between multiple services across the NHS and independent sector, if all goes to plan. 

The Government believes expansion of choice will give patients access to faster, more convenient treatment.

NHS England is now consulting with integrated care boards (ICBs) about launching pilots around the country from the autumn. Among services likely to be offered are endoscopy and other diagnostic tests, nutrition and podiatry. 

David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN), called the announcement ‘hugely welcome’.

‘Real benefits’

He predicted real benefits for patients through widening the range of high-quality services available to the public and reducing overall waiting times for a broader range of NHS services.

‘Our recent Time to Choose report with the Patients Association found that patients want to be given a choice and, when offered it, can cut on average over three months off their wait for NHS care by exercising their right to choose a different provider – whether NHS or independent sector – something that could make a real difference in tackling care backlogs.’

The IHPN has also welcomed the publication of a report from the Independent Panel on Patient Choice and Procurement, which emphasises the importance of tackling local barriers to patient choice.

Mr Hare was pleased to see it included ensuring there was real-time local data to identify any available capacity in the health system. He said this would enable people to make the most informed decisions around their care and ultimately cut the time they waited for treatment.

The Government and NHS have said they will implement the report’s recommendations.

Expanding range

NHS England will encourage ICBs to consider expanding the range of providers of services already covered by existing choice regulations, such as mental health.

Subject to the results of local pilots, the Government and NHS aim to expand choice to many more areas of the country and many more services.

Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said: ‘Expanding patient choice will enable people to choose when, where and how they are treated – putting power in the hands of the patients.’

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘We welcome the expansion of patient choice to care received outside of a hospital.

‘To benefit as many patients are possible, the NHS must make sure patients know they have a choice, are supported to make the best choice for them and the pilots must be accessible.’

Patients can already choose where they receive care when referred to an in-hospital consultant-led service. Following a consultation with their GP, patients should be offered information on a minimum of five providers, with information about waiting times, distance to travel and quality to help them make their choice.

In the expansion of choice, ICBs will include a range of providers across the NHS, charity and independent sectors to offer services to patients, which will be free at the point of use and at NHS costs and standards.