Patient surgery choice extendedAccessible information will be 'crucial'

31 May 2006

Patients are to get more choice of where to have their NHS treatment under plans unveiled by the government today.

Patients have been offered the choice of where to have their planned surgery from a list of four hospitals since January. That list has now been extended to include 32 foundation trusts - the government designated top performing hospitals. Choice will be widened even further later this year to include 15 private clinics providing NHS hip replacement surgery and cataract operations.

But Which? Principal Policy Adviser Frances Blunden warned that patients need access to good information before taking up the offer of choice.

Informed choices

She said: 'While it is good news that patients are being given more choice of where to go for treatment it also makes it harder for them to know what is available. It is therefore crucial that investment is put into providing accessible information so that people are able to make an informed choice about what and where to go for the best treatment to suit their needs.

'Which? research shows that 89 per cent of people agree that access to a good local hospital is more important than the Government giving people more hospitals to choose between. Furthermore only 38 per cent of patients feel they have enough information and advice to decide which hospital provides the best healthcare for their needs.'

Patients in control

Health Minister Andy Burnham said the reforms put patients in control of their treatment. He said: 'We want to see patients increasingly having the right to choose where to go if they need treatment or care - nobody should have to accept a 'get what you're given' culture.'

The Department of Health also today published a report on patient choice, outlining the patient and clinician experience since the introduction of choice at referral on 1st January 2006.

Mr Burnham said: 'This report shows that patients value being able to choose where to go for their treatment, and the convenience of choosing the time and date of their appointment.'

But a report issued today by the King's Fund health think tank said that the government's choice programme could widen health inequalities. It said people with formal education are more likely to choose the best hospitals whereas those with none will decide to stay local.