Shop around on NHS app to shorten wait for treatment

·2 min read
surgery picture
surgery picture

Patients are being urged to shop around on the NHS app and website to cut their waiting time for treatment in England.

IT systems have been updated to allow patients to more easily exercise their right to choose where they go for planned care, such as knee operations.

They will now be able to view up to five providers - filtered by distance, waiting times and quality of care.

But hospitals warned staffing shortages still needed to be tackled to make the biggest impact on waits.

The idea of choosing where to go for treatment has been in place since the early 2000s, but few use it.

Currently only one in 10 exercises their right to choose, with patients reporting they are not always offered a choice of where to go or that it is hard to select different venues.

Ministers believe that by searching the list of different hospitals, patients will be able to reduce their waits - potentially by up to three months, research suggests.

A letter has also been sent to local NHS managers reminding them of the need to offer patients a choice.

More than 7.3 million people are on the waiting list at the moment - nearly three million more than before the pandemic.

One in 20 has been waiting more than a year - although the NHS has got close to eliminating waits of more than 18 months.

NHS struggling

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: "Empowering patients to choose where they receive treatment will help cut waiting lists - one of my five key priorities."

Offering patients greater choice was one of Labour's flagship health policies, which were announced on Monday.

Rachel Power, of the Patients Association, said the move will "make it easier" for patients to use their long-established right to choose.

But making progress will also be dependent on the NHS seeing more patients.

While progress has been made on the very longest waits, the number of operations being done is still below pre-pandemic levels. This is because hospitals have struggled to get back to full capacity, mainly because of staffing shortages, more emergency patients and problems discharging patients because of the lack of care in the community.

Labour has also criticised the government for not making more use of the private sector, pointing out there has been capacity for another 300,000 patients to have been seen privately over the last 15 months than has happened.

Private hospitals are paid at NHS prices to see patients, under agreements in place with the health service.

Miriam Deakin, of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said while the initiative was welcome, improving access to patient choice was "not a panacea".

She said until the staffing shortages were resolved it would be more difficult to make progress.

One in 10 posts is currently vacant in the NHS.