A senior Department of Health official has criticised 'significant numbers' of hospital trusts for holding appointments back from the choose and book system.

In a letter to strategic health authority chief executives, Nick Chapman, "senior responsible owner" for choose and book, warned patients were "inconvenienced and confused by a system that is supposed to enable them to book an appointment but in fact does not".

Preventing bookings

Mr Chapman said he was concerned that "there are significant numbers of providers restricting the publication of outpatient appointment slots on the system and preventing patients from booking appointments directly".

Mr Chapman's intervention will be seen as a call to increase SHA scrutiny of providers and primary care trusts and to crack down on trusts that restrict appointments.

The department issued new guidance on choose and book this month. It said PCTs must check the availability of appointments at local providers and "actively manage the contracts with providers" where they were lacking.