Parts of the NHS, such as the Southampton, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Portsmouth (SHIP) PCT cluster, are advising patients to ask GPs about options available to them under AQP after it was expanded to 39 services this autumn.
If a service is put out to AQP, providers can be from the NHS, private or voluntary sectors. Patients then choose who provides their care from a list of options, all of which must be Choose and Book compliant.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘It will take up more of GPs’ time, particularly trying to keep abreast of an increasingly fragmented service and the various referral restrictions that different bodies use to try to limit their own risk.
'There are more and more pressures on appointments. Appointments already overrun.
‘The reality is that for the vast majority of patients they simply want a good local service and "choice" in political terms is not high on their agenda, and it therefore is rarely raised by many patients.’
But SHIP PCT cluster medical director, Dr Stuart Ward, welcomed the expansion of the policy. He said the cluster would be distributing posters and leaflets to practices to help inform patients about the policy.
The PCT cluster is putting out three services to AQP including adult hearing services, musculoskeletal services for back and neck pain and continence services for adults and children, and could extend this from April 2013.
A message to patients on the PCT cluster's website from Dr Ward says: ‘Please speak to your GP to find out what choice of provider there is in your area for the three services. The local NHS will also be distributing posters and leaflets to GP surgeries, for patients to access more information about choice of provider.’
Dr Vautrey said: ‘NHS organisations are bound to welcome AQP as they are told to do so by the DH downwards. If it was such a good idea then NHS organisations in Scotland and Wales would be asking for it too.’
The BMA has argued against the marketisation of the NHS, but was forced to ditch plans to give patients 'pledge cards' inviting them to opt out of being referred to private providers under AQP. Lawyers warned that GPs could face legal challenges by private companies if they made the cards available in their practices.