Patients are being urged to exercise their legal right to choose a hospital provider of their choice, whether from the public or independent sectors, as new analysis of NHS figures has found the number of people waiting longer than 18 weeks for planned operations could exceed 800,000 by May 2020.
This advice comes as demand for planned operations such as hip and knee operations is rising, with the number of people waiting for treatment to hit almost 5 million in 2020 – an increase of almost 2 million since May 2015.
The NHS Partners Network, which represent independent providers of NHS care, and who carried out this analysis is warning that the relaxation of the 18 week referral to treatment target could see patients waiting longer for care and are therefore calling for urgent action to be taken to ensure patients are aware of their right to choose where they receive NHS treatment - key to helping people access care as quickly as possible.
The NHS Choice Framework states that patients have the legal right to choose whether they receive NHS treatment in an NHS hospital or in the independent sector. However the latest figures from NHS England show that only 47% of people are actually aware of this right, resulting in hundreds of thousands of patients potentially missing out on the opportunity to access treatment more quickly.
David Hare, Chief Executive of the NHS Partners Network said:
“As NHS England’s Five Year Forward View Next Steps document highlights, the NHS is currently under significant pressure and is desperately short of elective capacity.
“With the NHS’ move to relax its commitment to treating NHS patients within 18 weeks, it is crucial patients are able to exercise their right to choose which provider they are treated by to ensure they can access the quickest available treatment. This includes independent sector providers who, on average, treat NHS patients 6 days earlier compared to NHS providers and offer services to patients paid for at NHS prices, to NHS standards and free at the point-of-use.
“Unless action is taken, patients will face unacceptably long waits for treatment which not only leaves them in pain for longer than required, but could also lead to medical complications.
“We therefore urge the Government to take urgent action to ensure patients and the public are given sufficient information and are empowered to exercise their right to choose so they can access care as quickly as possible.”