More than half of patients (51%) were aware of their legal right to choose a hospital or clinic for an outpatient appointment.
A similar proportion (53%) referred for an outpatient appointment first had a discussion with their GP about where to receive treatment. Fewer than two-fifths of patients, however, said they were offered a choice of hospital by their GP when being referred for an outpatient appointment.
These are some of the findings of a survey of more than 2,700 patients conducted for NHS England and Monitor, which is being published today.
It is important that patients, in consultation with their GPs, are offered their legal right to choose as set out in the NHS Constitution, particularly given the differences between hospitals on such things as waiting times. The survey also found that:
- people from black and minority ethnic groups were more likely to have discussed choice with their GP (66% compared with 52% of white patients) although they were less likely to be aware of their legal right beforehand (42% compared with 51% of white patients)
- people not currently working, including retired people, were more likely to be aware of their right to choose (55% compared with 46% of those who are working)
- people in rural areas were more likely both to be aware of their right and to have been offered a choice of provider for their care and treatment (45% compared with 36% of those in urban areas)
Most of those who were offered a choice felt that they had enough information to choose (89%), and were able to go to their preferred hospital or clinic (92%).
Ian Dodge, NHS England’s National Director for Commissioning Strategy, said:
While patient choice of first outpatient appointment is a reality for some patients in England, the challenge now is to ensure that everyone enjoys their legal right, for example to choose hospitals or clinics with shorter waiting times, if that’s what they want, in both mental health and physical health services.
Catherine Davies, Co-operation and Competition Director at Monitor, said:
This survey gives us some helpful insight into how patients have experienced choice in England. Some of these results are encouraging, and suggest that many GPs are having helpful conversations with patients about decisions that affect their care.
But it also suggests the NHS needs to do more to make sure patients are aware they have a choice and are offered that choice. We will continue in our efforts to make sure this happens, and to help patients feel involved and in control of their healthcare.