Patients in England could cut months off their wait for care by exercising their right to choose a different provider for their NHS treatment.
A joint report out today from the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN) and the Patients Association has found that across England, patients need to travel just 13.2 miles – around 30 minutes by car – to cut over three and a half months off their waiting time.
However, despite patients having a legal right to choose which provider delivers their care – including in an independent provider – almost half of the public are unaware of these rights.
IHPN and the Patients Association are calling for the Government and NHS to take action to boost the public’s understanding of the choices they have of where to receive their NHS treatment.
Short journeys can cut waiting times
In the Midlands, for example, a patient waiting for treatment in a hospital with high average waiting times for the region would only need to travel around 11 miles to a hospital with lower waiting times and see their average waiting time go from 26.7 weeks down to 8.9 weeks – a saving of almost 18 weeks.
According to polling by conducted by Savanta for IHPN and the Patients Association, almost three quarters (73%) of patients would be happy to travel more than 30 minutes outside of their local area to get treatment more quickly. Only 5% of people said they would not travel outside their local area to get quicker treatment from the NHS.
IHPN and the Patients Association want to see NHS England establish an online one-stop portal where patients can search for their local treatment options with easily comparable information so they can choose a provider with the shortest waiting times.
IHPN and the Patients Association also recommend that NHS England undertake a comprehensive annual survey of patient awareness of choice, with a report to the Secretary of State on how the service plans to improve the awareness of patient choice and patients’ uptake of choice.
The report, “Time to Choose: How patients exercising their right to choose can help clear the NHS elective backlog”, also looks at the role independent providers can play in speeding up delivery of NHS treatment, particularly in terms of reducing health inequalities.
NHS patients can choose to receive their treatment in an independent provider and new data in the report shows that almost 90% of people in England live within a 30 minute drive of an independent provider, with people living in the most deprived areas of England just as likely to live near an independent provider as the general population.
David Hare, Chief Executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network said:
“Patient choice in the NHS has for too long been a policy in name only yet this report demonstrates just how much quicker patients could be treated if they are given a choice over where they receive their NHS care.
“With NHS waiting lists at record highs, there is an urgent need for a real push from both the Government and the NHS to put power in the hands of patients, with a clear commitment to boost the public’s understanding of the choices available to them to receive the quickest possible NHS treatment, whether that be at an NHS or independent sector facility.”
Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said:
“The right to choose your provider has been available for two decades, yet many patients are unaware of this right. We want health professionals to be clear with patients that they can choose where they can access the treatment, and we want NHS England to make it easy for patients to find out where they can get their treatment the quickest and for patients to be able to compare different providers.
“Patients exercising this right will not only benefit individual patients but also has the potential to improve health inequalities.”