…By Henry George for TDPel Media.
The UK government has taken a significant step towards empowering patients by instructing NHS providers in England to offer them up to five treatment options through the NHS app.
This move aims to give patients more control over their healthcare decisions.
After consulting with their general practitioner (GP), patients will have access to information about up to five healthcare providers, filtered by distance, waiting times, and quality of care.
In theory, this initiative could enable patients to choose the treatment option with the shortest waiting time.
Officials believe that it has the potential to reduce waiting times by up to three months.
The service will be accessible to individuals who use the NHS app.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his support, stating that allowing patients to choose where they receive treatment will contribute to reducing waiting lists, which is one of his top priorities.
Currently, only one in ten patients actively selects their care provider.
The government aims to change this by assisting the NHS in offering patients genuine choices and providing them with the necessary information to make informed decisions.
The objective is to establish an NHS that revolves around patients, providing them with greater control over the care they receive, regardless of their location or specific health needs.
Steve Barclay, the Health and Social Care Secretary, emphasized that every patient should have the ability to easily choose where they receive treatment.
The recent measures will empower patients to exercise their choice and gain access to vital information about various care options, including journey time, waiting period, and service quality, all with a simple swipe on their smartphones.
This not only gives patients more control over their healthcare but can also significantly reduce waiting times by directing them to hospitals or clinics with shorter waiting lists.
Patients currently on waiting lists will also benefit from this initiative.
Starting in October, individuals who have waited over 40 weeks for an appointment without receiving a treatment date will be asked if they wish to switch hospitals, including those with shorter waiting times, if it is clinically suitable.
Officials hope to reduce the 40-week wait to 18 weeks in the coming months.
To promote patient choice, a new public awareness campaign will be launched.
GP practices have been provided with guidance and support to facilitate choice, including training on using IT systems for referrals.
Amanda Pritchard, the NHS Chief Executive, believes that by offering patients more choice and information through the NHS app, the way people access treatment options can be transformed.
This initiative complements the ongoing efforts of NHS staff across the country to reduce long waiting times.
Despite the significant pressure faced, the NHS managed to reduce 18-month waits for care by over 90% by April.
Alongside existing tools such as elective hubs, surgical robots, and prehab checks, embracing the latest innovations and technology will benefit patients.
The NHS app, serving as the digital gateway to the NHS, has garnered over 32 million sign-ups and receives approximately 75 million visits per month.
Patients already have the capability to book and manage GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions, and handle hospital referrals through the app.
Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, expressed hope that this announcement will simplify the process for patients in England to exercise their long-established right to choose their care provider.
A survey conducted by the organization revealed that patients’ awareness of their choice options is low, and many are not regularly offered the opportunity to choose.
The planned communications campaign aims to clarify patient choice and encourage people to make use of it.
While the support given to general practice is welcomed, it is crucial to ensure that they are adequately assisted in working with patients to increase the uptake of patient choice, particularly given the current pressures faced by general practitioners.
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