The DH’s latest figures on the uptake of NHS patient choice show a maintenance or improvement in the figures for people’s understanding and uptake of the option to choose their hospital for treatment.

Patient choice for hospital appointments was introduced under the Government’s NHS reform programme in 2004. Originally limited to a choice of five, the policy was expanded in 2006 to a choice of any hospital accredited that could match the NHS national tariff price for a procedure. Choice does not apply to mental health or management of long-term conditions.

Figures, taken from the National Patient Choice Survey for July (verified) and September (provisional) 2008 showed that the percentage of patients recalling being offered a choice of hospital for their first outpatient appointment was 46% in July 2008, compared with 45% in May 2008 and 30% in the first survey (May/June 2006). 47% of patients were aware before they visited their GP that they had a choice of hospitals for their first appointment - up from 45% in May and 29% in the May/June 2006 survey.

61% of patients who were aware of choice recalled being offered choice, whereas 34% of those not aware of choice recalled being offered it, similar to the May survey (61% and 32% respectively).

Access to hospital of choice
66% of patients were able to go to the hospital they wanted, with a further 23% having no preference and 8% unable to go where they wanted, compared with 66%, 24% and 8% respectively in May.
88% of patients offered choice were able to go to the hospital they wanted, with a further 4% having no preference. This compares with 46% of patients not offered choice able to go where they wanted and 41% having no preference.

76% of patients were satisfied with how long they had to wait from the time their GP referred them to when they saw the hospital specialist. Hospital cleanliness and low infection rates were selected most often (by 74% of patients) as an important factor when choosing a hospital

Latest (provisional) findings
Provisional headline findings of the September 2008 survey are that 46% of patients recalled being offered a choice of hospital for their first outpatient appointment, the same as in the July survey. 48% of patients were aware before they visited their GP that they had a choice of hospitals for their first appointment, compared with 47% in July.

68% of patients were able to go to the hospital they wanted, with a further 22% having no preference and 7% unable to go where they wanted.