Patients should be offered more choice on where they attend outpatient appointments, health regulator Monitor has said.
Monitor stressed that it is important that GPs offer patients the “legal right to choose” as set out in the NHS Constitution, especially as there are differences between hospitals on things such as waiting times.
Only half of patients (51%) were aware of their legal right to choose a hospital or clinic for an outpatient appointment, according to a survey of over 2,700 patients conducted for NHS England.
However, most of those that were offered a choice felt they had enough information to choose from (89%) and the majority (92%) were able to go to their preferred hospital or clinic.
People from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds were more likely to have discussed the choice with their GP (66%) compared to 52% of white patients.
But BME patients were less likely to be aware of their legal right beforehand (42%) compared with white patients (51%).
And people in rural areas were both more likely to aware of their right and to have been offered a choice of provider for their care (45% compared to 36% in urban areas).
Ian Dodge, NHS England’s national director for commissioning strategy said: “While patient choice of first outpatient appointment is a reality for some patients in England, the challenge now is to ensure that everyone enjoys their legal right, for example to choose hospitals or clinics with shorter waiting times, if that’s what they want, in both mental health and physical health services.”
Catherine Davies, co-operation and competition director at Monitor, said: “This survey gives us some helpful insight into how patients have experienced choice in England. 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. We will continue in our efforts to make sure this happens, and to help patients feel involved and in control of their health care.”