Is patient choice happening?
8th December 2022
Maeve Hully, Director of Volunteering at Helpforce, and Sarah Tilsed, Head of Patient Partnership at the Patients Association write about discussions on patient choice with patients waiting for care in Warwickshire.
Following the publication of the report Time to Choose, this summer, Helpforce and the Patients Association were interested to know what impact patient choice could have in reducing waiting times and the impact this could have on reducing the pressure on NHS organisations.
Analysis in Time to Choose found that on average, a patient could travel just 13.2 miles to go from one of the lower performing NHS service providers to one of the top performers in the area. Doing so may save patients up to 14 weeks of waiting for some services.
However, people's awareness of their rights around where they receive their NHS treatment is low, suggesting a push by the Government and NHS England to promote choice could make it easier for patients to understand the options available to them, helping create more efficient services for everyone. One of the recommendations from Time to Choose was that the NHS should provide more information directly to patients on the choices available to them.
Awareness among patients in England that they can choose where they receive their NHS treatment is low, suggesting a need to do more to help them understand the options available and make it easier for patients to choose where to get care.
Helpforce has been working with George Eliot Hospital, Warwickshire - a partner of Helpforce’s Back to Health campaign, to develop a wide range of volunteering roles, including the recent launch of a contact centre volunteering service.
These volunteers contact patients on waiting lists and following discharge to provide signposting, capture changes in patients’ circumstances, and to ensure patients receive the support they need to access their appointments or aid recovery.
The Patients Association and Helpforce saw the launch of the contact centre volunteering service as an opportunity to explore if patients on waiting lists at George Eliot Hospital for general surgery, orthopaedics and other specialities were aware they could choose where to receive their care.
Volunteers asked waiting patients for care two questions; whether the patient’s GP or other health professionals had discussed with them the option to choose where they received their care, and whether it was helpful knowing their options.
This helped George Eliot Hospital understand if patient choice - having greater knowledge of the choices available to them - could have the potential to reduce waiting time and pressures on the hospital.
George Eliot Hospital would also gain an understanding of how commonly patients on its waiting lists are offered choice at point of referral and how this could impact waiting times for appointments.
Between July and December, the volunteers heard from 67 patients waiting for treatment and found that 81% of those had not been asked by a healthcare professional or GP about whether they wanted to choose where they received their care. Yet 76% of these patients would have found this discussion helpful.
Of the 19% who did discuss the option to choose where they received their care, 77% found this helpful.
Although these are small numbers, it reiterates the findings in the report Time to Choose, which the Patients Association and the Independent Healthcare Providers Network published
Patient choice is part of the NHS Constitution, which are the principles and values of the NHS, and research suggests that it is not taking place effectively. More awareness needs to be raised around this valuable topic, especially at this vital time where more than 7 million patients are on waiting lists.
Let people know that patients have a choice!
- Read up on your rights of patient choice
- Check My Planned Care to get an idea of waiting times
- Speak to your GP or healthcare professional about choices
- Tell friends, families, and colleagues that every patient has a choice.