Patients’ ability to choose between named consultant led teams for elective hospital care looks unlikely to be significantly extended by the government’s deadline in April.
The white paperLiberating the NHS, published last July, said: “[We will] introduce choice of named consultant led team for elective care by April 2011 where clinically appropriate.”
The Department of Health has since said it will publish guidance requiring hospital trusts to list slots by named consultant led team on the choose and book system.
The DH this week told HSJ it was aiming to have guidance in place “shortly”.
But providers are unlikely to be able to schedule specific teams to be in place and provide that information by April, senior sources have told HSJ.
Nor has the DH set out how it will make significantly more information about the performance of consultant led teams available to patients at the point of referral.
In October last year, when consultations on choice and an “information revolution” were published, DH chief information officer Christine Connelly admitted the commitment was “a challenging thing logistically”.
She said the NHS would publish some already collected data. But there has been no elaboration since then and conclusions from neither consultation have been published.
One senior DH source said giving a choice of consultant led team had been an aim for a long time and work was ongoing to bring it about. But the source said it was not close to becoming a reality and added: “The question is how to do it in a way that is of value to patients.”
HSJ understands the DH hopes to publish an “information strategy” - the product of the consultation on information - next month.
Jeremy Taylor, chief executive of patient representative group National Voices, said: “It is hard to see how the change can be implemented in the next three weeks.
“Choice of provider and team is important where there are obvious and demonstrable differences in quality, and in those cases to make it meaningful we need to have better data.”
British Medical Association consultants committee chair Mark Porter said it was likely that in the meantime patients would rely on “informal” information based on GPs’ experiences of particular consultants.
He said he agreed with this in principle but there was a danger of “dressing patient choice up as something it isn’t”.
A DH spokeswoman said: “Guidance to the NHS on giving patients choice of named consultant led team will be issued shortly. We aim to have this in place in April, as planned.”