GPs question call to offer more patients choice of hospital

GP leaders have urged NHS officials to rethink choice policy after calls for the profession to offer more patients the chance to choose which hospital they are referred to.

Dr Tony Grewal: importance of choice a myth
Dr Tony Grewal: importance of choice a myth

Data published on Thursday by health regulator Monitor show that 53% of patients referred for a hospital outpatient appointment in the past 12 months discussed which hospital or clinic they might go to for the appointment.

But the findings show just 38% of patients referred for outpatient appointments by their GP were offered a choice of hospital.

Regional variations were fairly wide, with 48% of Londoners offered a choice of hospitals, compared with 31% of patients in south-east England.

Catherine Davies, co-operation and competition director at Monitor, said: ‘Some of these results are encouraging, and suggest that many GPs are having helpful conversations with patients about decisions that affect their care.

‘But it also suggests the NHS needs to do more to make sure patients are aware they have a choice and are offered that choice.’

Widen questions over choice

Londonwide LMCs medical director Dr Tony Grewal criticised the findings, pointing out that patients not offered a choice should have been asked whether they were unhappy about it.

He said: ‘In my experience the only important thing for the vast majority of patients is that you are not sending them somewhere bad and that it is at a convenient time.

‘Choice is a myth in terms of its importance.’

He pointed out that in parts of the country – such as many small towns or rural areas – choice was simply impractical.

For many other patients it was simply not an issue, he said.

‘You can see on a patient’s face when they are unhappy,’ said Dr Grewal.

He pointed out that a handful of patients may choose not to go to a particular hospital because of a poor previous experience for them or a family member.

If patients are not happy being referred to the local hospital for any reason, it is at this stage that wider choices are often discussed, he suggested.

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