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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 December 2005, 23:58 GMT
Patients 'confused over rights'
Surgeons operating
Patients rights in the NHS compare unfavourably with other countries
Patients are deluded about their rights in the NHS, a survey suggests.

The poll of 1,000 people found many thought they had more right to fast treatment, choice of doctor or performance data than they do.

The Patients Association, which commissioned the survey, said in reality patients have few entitlements and lag behind many European countries.

But the government said moves were in place to offer patients more information and greater choice.

Some 90% of those surveyed thought the NHS gave patients the right to be treated in a hospital which meets government standards.

Clearly the public believes it has much more right to information and services than they actually do
Simon Williams, of the Patients Association

In reality, although hospitals are required to meet certain standards, they do not have to offer patients an alternative if they fall below them.

Two-thirds also said they had a right to be treated or have an operation before their condition worsened, but the Patients Association said the only goal that had to be met was its waiting list targets

And the poll revealed more than 80% believed they had the right to choose their GP.

A person is only permitted to choose a GP practice if they live in their catchment area.

In rural areas, this can sometimes mean they are only eligible for one practice.

Also any GP practice can refuse to take a patient on.

Patients will also have new rights from January 1 to have a choice of at least four hospitals if they may need an operation or treatment
Harry Cayton
National Director for Patients and the Public

A majority of those quizzed said they thought they were entitled to performance data on hospital and GP care.

Hospitals have been given star ratings, grading the services they offer, but apart from that there is little data available, the Patients Association said.

However, the Freedom of Information Act, which came into force at the beginning of the year, has strengthened some rights to information on infection rates and staffing numbers.

And the information commissioner has also said he wants to see individual doctor performance data published, although to date only a select few hospitals have done this.

Heart surgeons, however, have published performance data on a team by team basis.

Eight in 10 also said their rights were laid down in law, but the closest thing to that - John Major's Patients Charter - was abolished in England in 1997.

Legal rights

The Patients Association said this compared unfavourably with many other countries, including eastern European nations such as Latvia, Hungary and Estonia.

Here patients are given legal rights over aspects of care denied in England.

Patients Association director of policy Simon Williams said the findings were "disturbing".

"Clearly the public believes it has much more right to information and services than they actually do.

"We need to begin a debate about rights, when you look at many other countries they have far more entitlements, which are often laid down in law."

New rights

Harry Cayton, National Director for Patients and the Public, said the survey was a very small snapshot of patient experience.

He said it was important that patients received the right information - suited to their personal needs.

"We are working with patient organisations to provide information which empowers patients to ask health professionals for better information if they feel that they are not receiving it.

"Patients will also have new rights from January 1 to have a choice of at least four hospitals if they may need an operation or treatment, and they will be able to get easily comparable and accessible information about the different options available to them."


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