NHS England has announced that patients will be offered a shortlist of at least five care providers to choose from through the NHS app, when they are referred by a GP.
The move aims to provide patients with more choice and control over their own care, providing a patient with providers to choose from based on their preferred selection criteria, such as waiting time or distance.
As part of the programme, NHS England updated ERS functionality in March 2023 to create a single menu of service options, hoping to support referrers to see options in one place. Following a patient speaking with their GP, they will be able to view the information using the NHS App or website.
Dr Kieran Sharrock, GP and acting chair of the BMA England GP committee, responded to the announcement: “While we agree that patients should be at the centre of decision-making about their care, doctors working in both primary and secondary care are acutely aware that our patients just want to be seen in good time and close to home. It is long waiting lists, due to the long-term undervaluing of NHS staff and poor workforce planning, that are preventing this from happening, not a lack of patient choice.”
In the announcement, DHSC highlighted that currently 1 in 10 patients exercise their right to choose, and added that “research shows that giving patients choice can cut up to 3 months off their waiting time by selecting a different hospital in the same region.”
A new public awareness campaign will now launch to encourage patients to exercise their right to choose and guidance has been provided to GP practices.
From October, for those patients who have been waiting more than 40 weeks for an appointment and not yet given one, they will be asked if they want to change provider.
Steve Barclay, health and social care secretary, said: “Millions of people downloaded the NHS App during the pandemic. Increasing use of this fantastic resource will enable them to exercise more choice and get access to essential information about the options for their care including journey time, length of wait and quality of service – all at the swipe of a smartphone screen. This will not only give patients more control over their own care but could also wipe months off their wait by finding a hospital or clinic with a shorter waiting list.”
Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, added: “By giving patients greater choice and more information about their care through the convenience of the NHS app, we can change the way people access treatment options while also building on the fantastic work already being done by NHS staff across the country in bringing down the longest waits for care.
“Despite significant pressure, the NHS reduced 18-month waits for care by more than 90% by April and alongside existing tools like elective hubs, surgical robots and ‘prehab’ checks, this is another way that we are continuing to embrace the latest innovations and tech for the benefit of patients.”
For patients who do not have access to technology, NHS England said either their GP practice will speak to them and help select their provider, or they can call the National Referral Helpline.