Published: 22/04/2002, Volume II4, No. 5902 Page 7

The NHS in Scotland is to adopt an English patient choice scheme in an attempt to hit targets on outpatient waiting times.

It will pilot patient referral management systems within the next few months, and senior figures from the Scottish Executive health department's centre for change and innovation were due to discuss the way forward yesterday.

This will be followed by a oneday conference at which managers from England, who have worked with different patient choice systems, will be invited to share their experience.

The NHS in Scotland is believed to be studying three patient referral systems used in Somerset, Manchester and north-west London as it attempts to follow the English model of shifting treatment away from the acute sector.

It is understood that the Somerset Coast model, named after the PCT that developed the system, is thought to be favourite.

It is considered to be the simplest and cheapest option.

Centre for change and innovation project manager for patient pathways Dr Ali El-Ghorr said:

'Our aim is to pilot referral management services and identify what will be the best for Scotland.'

He said it was unlikely there would be one patient referral service for all Scotland, and different areas would have different needs.

The Scottish Executive has a target to reduce outpatient waiting times to a six-month maximum by the end of this year.

Scottish health minister Malcolm Chisholm is understood to have been impressed with the Somerset Coast model.

At the moment, Dr El-Ghorr said, alternative routes to the traditional consultant referral are few and far between in many Scottish NHS board areas.

Somerset Coast PCT medical director Dr Donal Hynes, who led development of the patient referral system, said it was a simple option which was proving popular with GPs. 'It is cost-effective because There is no clinical input - There is one extra data input clerk per PCT, ' he said.

Four other English PCTs have adopted the Somerset model.