Published: 10/04/2003, Volume II3, No. 5850 Page 6

Patient choice could be extended to those suffering from chronic illness, according to Department of Health director of strategy Professor Chris Ham.

The conclusion was reached following simulation events involving the Greater Manchester and Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire health economies. These studied how patient choice would develop in 2005, assuming waiting time targets had been hit.

Professor Ham said that with less pressure to reduce waits, patient choice would become more about the 'what' and 'how' of care, as opposed to 'when' and 'where'. It would become more relevant to those suffering chronic conditions, as well as needing to be exercised throughout care pathways rather than simply at the point of access.

The strategy director was speaking after a King's Fund seminar on patient choice. He said the NHS had to address fundamental issues to broaden patient choice.

These included significantly improving information given to patients; deciding who gave what advice; and ensuring regulators could provide the reassurance that the increased range of providers could meet required standards.

Professor Ham also said there would be significant implications for primary care trusts' commissioning role in supporting choice 'on a whole range of conditions'.He said new financial flow reforms - in which resources follow the patient - would have to be structured to allow for choice in chronic care.