There is a ‘varied picture’ in the way clinical commissioning groups promote patient choice across the country, the regulator Monitor has said.

  • Slight increase in proportion of patients who recall being offered choice of provider when referred for outpatient appointment, survey shows
  • Monitor: Commissioners’ promotion of patient choice “varied” across the country

The comments come as a survey commissioned by the regulator, with NHS England, shows a slight increase on last year in the proportion of patients who recalled being offered a choice of provider when referred by their GP for an outpatient appointment.

Patients have a right to be offered a choice of provider for elective care, with help from their GP, under the NHS constitution. 

Forty per cent of patients surveyed said they were offered a choice of hospital or clinic for their first outpatient appointment by their GP, up very slightly from 38 per cent last year.

The survey, carried out in June and July, involved online interviews with 2,729 people who had been referred for outpatient appointments in the past year.

It found that patients living in the North West were the most likely to have been offered choice of provider, with 46 per cent saying they were offered several options.

In London the figure was 40 per cent and in the South East it was 32 per cent.

Monitor senior policy adviser David Furness, speaking to HSJ about the findings, said: “Anecdotally we know that CCGs are well aware of the importance of choice.

“The picture is variable across the country – there are some CCGs where things are working better and some where they’re not working so well.

“Our aim is to try and help the people who are doing the good stuff to make it even better to take what we know from there to support those areas where, for whatever reason, choice isn’t being offered to the same degree.”

He added: “It’s clearly true that patient choice isn’t the most important tool for dealing with the financial challenge [facing the NHS]. There are lots of things we need to do to make sure that the NHS is as financially efficient as possible.

“[But] if you help people understand the trade-offs between waiting times and proximity then you might find that demand is spread around the system in a way that actually helps to generate efficiency.”

Commenting on the regional variation, Mr Furness said: “One criticism we hear about choice is that it is marginal because it’s just for educated rich people or those who live in London.

“Our survey really rebuts that and shows that you’re no more likely to have choice if you live in a city.

“Patient choice is used and valued by people of all ages, all socio-economic backgrounds and that for us shows that it’s a really important part of the empowering patients agenda.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “This survey shows a very similar picture to last year, and underlines the need for ongoing work to ensure patients are made aware of the longstanding choices they have about NHS care.”