Stockport primary care trust has denied claims that it is limiting patient choice for orthopaedic patients to the local private sector.

Stockport primary care trust has denied claims that it is limiting patient choice for orthopaedic patients to the local private sector.

In a move which appears to run counter to the government's choice agenda, the PCT has sent letters to orthopaedic patients informing them that it cannot offer patients in need of orthopaedic surgery the option of treatment at an NHS hospital.

The letter, seen by HSJ, warns patients that their surgery 'may take place at an independent (private) hospital'.

It goes on: 'At present we [the PCT] are unable to offer NHS hospitals as a choice for surgery at this point in the pathway.'

The local foundation trust is seeking clarification from the PCT on its processes after telling them that they did not feel patients were being offered 'genuine choice'.

However, Stockport PCT chief executive Richard Popplewell said the PCT was not denying patients an NHS option. He insisted the letter had been sent to patients who had already opted to use the independent sector at the point they were referred by GPs. He said it was sent following an assessment establishing the need for surgery.

'I totally refute the idea that we are not offering choice,' said Mr Popplewell. 'This is stage three or choice three of the patient pathway when the patients have already chosen to use the independent sector.'

After warning patients that the PCT is 'unable' to offer NHS choices, the letter, penned by the PCT's senior patient choice nurse, goes on to say that patients can change their mind: 'If you decide that you would prefer to be treated in totality at an NHS hospital then you need to contact me ASAP. You will then be given a choice of four or five NHS providers. We will then process your referral in the normal way to an outpatient appointment with a consultant.'

A Stockport foundation trust spokesperson said the hospital was 'seeking clarification' from the PCT on 'how choice is offered to patients in light of the PCT's processes'. 'So far we have not had a satisfactory explanation from them.'

The spokesperson added: 'This letter and the PCT process seems to require patients to proactively opt out of a process that leads them into the independent sector. So far we do not feel patients are being offered a genuine choice.'

Foundation Trust Network director Sue Slipman expressed concern about what the letter appeared to suggest: 'There was always a worry that commissioners would slow down the work going to hospitals because the contracts with the private sector are take-or-pay contracts'.

'This is completely against patient choice,' she added.

A Department of Health spokesperson said that PCTs were 'responsible for commissioning from the menu of providers from which patients are able to choose'.

'We expect GPs to introduce choice to patients who are being referred for planned hospital care and to discuss the clinically appropriate choices with them.

'People will then be able to choose a hospital taking into account their own needs and preferences,' they added.