29.05.2024

Patients to be offered faster treatment hundreds of miles away in bid to slash record waiting times

Patients will be offered faster treatment hundreds of miles from home in a bid to slash record waiting times. The has been told it must give people alternative options, including travelling longer distances to beat the biggest queues.

The new guidelines will see patients able to search details like distance and current waiting times using the NHS app before deciding where they would like to be referred.

GPs will also be closely monitored about whether patients are being made aware of their right to choose.

From today, those already frustrated by long waits will be able to switch to a hospital with shorter lists should they wish to.

The NHS has been told it must give people alternative options, including travelling longer distances to beat the biggest queues (file image)

The NHS has been told it must give people alternative options, including travelling longer distances to beat the biggest queues (file image)

Officials hope ’empowering patients’ to shape their care will help drastically reduce the 7.3 million currently waiting for NHS treatment.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: ‘Currently, just one in ten patients make a choice about where they receive care. We want to change that by helping the NHS to offer patients a real choice while also giving patients the information they need to decide.

‘Our aim is to create an NHS built around patients, where everyone has more control over the care they receive, wherever they live or whatever their health needs are.’

He added: ‘Empowering patients to choose where they receive treatment will help cut waiting lists, one of my five key priorities.’

Despite being introduced almost two decades ago, just one in ten patients currently exercise their right to choose where they receive treatment.

Under the new guidelines, those who have waited more than 40 weeks for treatment will be asked it the want to be referred elsewhere, with bosses hoping to extend this to 18 week waits in time.

NHS hospitals with spare capacity will be asked to provide ‘mutual aid’ to those with the longest waits, cutting waits by an estimated three months. Private hospitals are also expected to be utilized more to help bring down waits.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said the NHS app would help ‘wipe months off’ people’s waiting times.

He 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.’

the 7.3 million currently waiting for NHS treatment. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: ‘Currently, just one in ten patients make a choice about where they receive care. We want to change that by helping the NHS to offer patients a real choice while also giving patients the information they need to decide’

Patient and hospital groups welcomed drives to reduce waits but warned it risked ostracising the elderly or less tech-savvy and would rely on GPs to relay choices to many.

Rachel Power, of the Patients Association, said: ‘We hope the planned communications campaign will clearly explain choice and encourage people to exercise it.

‘We welcome news of the support general practice is to get, but with the current pressures on general practice, it will be important they are supported to work in partnership with their patients to increase uptake of patient choice.’

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said improving patient choice is ‘not a panacea for the wider challenges facing the NHS as it tackles record waiting lists.’

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy, said: ‘Some patients will welcome more choice over where they receive their care, but we know others will want to be treated at a site closer to home as quickly as possible.

‘And while using technology to help patients better access the care they need is positive, steps must also be taken to guard against digital exclusion, which could worsen health inequalities that have become even more deep-rooted since the pandemic.’

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard, said: ‘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.’

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