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Restricted choice for patients

10th August 2006

06032006_JellyBeans1.JPGThere are numerous examples of PCTs deleting popular hospitals from the menu of choices available to GPs using Choose and Book to ensure no patient waits longer than 13 weeks, a Pulse inquiry found.

This means GPs are increasingly unable to book slots at patients' preferred hospital, forcing people to travel long distances to less popular clinics even when they would prefer to wait longer. 

Patients are therefore being denied treatment at their chosen hospital making a mockery of the Government's promise to give patients free choice of where they are treated, revealing waiting times are its real priority, says Pulse.

Clinical lead for Choose and Book at Connecting for Health, Dr Mark Davies, said the system allowed slots to be booked up to 180 days ahead; however commissioners had the power to take hospitals off menus if they could not offer a booking inside the 13-week target.

National GP clinical lead for Connecting for Health, Professor Mike Pringle, said it was aware of concerns and would be redesigning Choose and Book. The restrictions are expected to worsen as take-up increases further and when waiting targets fall to 11 weeks in March 2007.

A spokeswoman at the Department of Health said patients should be able to choose a hospital, even if the appointment had to be outside 13 weeks. She added that GPs should make a manual referral if Choose and Book did not offer a 13-week booking.

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