Headlines: March 15th, 2007



A report today claims that Primary Care Trusts are struggling to support patients making choices about hospital care and the study, published by the King’s Fund, warns that this could undermine one of the government’s ambitions for patient choice, making the National Health Service fairer.

More than half of the trusts that responded to the survey reported that they had not yet taken action to identify patients who might need support in making choices about which hospital they should go to for treatment. Two thirds had not commissioned any new services to support the introduction of patient choice. Under the system all patients needing non-urgent treatment were to be given a choice of hospital by their GP.

The King’s Fund ‘Choice and Equity ‘survey also found that two thirds of Primary Care Trusts had not told patients that they might be entitled to financial help for transport and only a minority had invested in staff to offer personal support to patients making choices. Those that had were using a range of methods to encourage patient choice, including sending information to private homes and mounting displays in shopping centres.

Most of the PCTs that took part said it was difficult or very difficult to ensure all patients had a fair chance to choose. Almost a quarter reported resistance from GPs who were frustrated with ongoing IT problems and lack of information about choice.

The report’s author Ruth Thorlby, who is King’s Fund Fellow in Health Policy said the government had argued that Patient Choice would enable all patients to enjoy choices formerly available to only a few and PCTs had been made responsible for ensuring everyone would have an equal opportunity to choose. “Some PCTs are providing support, but the majority are not. This is possibly because getting the electronic systems, such as Choose and Book, to work and convincing GPs to come on board, is a bigger priority. While it is too early to tell whether patient choice is creating fairer outcomes for people, ensuring that everyone gets an equal chance to make a choice is already proving testing for the NHS,” she said.

Today’s report is calling on the Department to Health to evaluate the impact of patient choice on equity, including looking at the work of PCTs that have invested time and effort into supporting patients to make choices. King’s Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said the policy would work only if patients were able to make informed choices. “The evidence so far shows that the NHS has not done enough to make this happen. More choice should lead to better hospital care but it must be based on giving everyone not only the chance to choose but also the right information and support,” he added.