Page last updated at 00:36 GMT, Sunday, 1 January 2006

Doctors assess patients' choice

From 1 January, NHS patients in England will be given a choice over where they have their treatment.

People needing non-emergency surgery will be able to pick from a list of at least four hospitals.

Two GPs give their opinions over a reform which the government says will drive up standards and make the health service more "patient-friendly".

DR SATYA SHARMA

Dr Satya Sharma
Dr Sharma said there always used to be choice in the NHS

Dr Satya Sharma is in favour of choice, but does not believe it is necessarily new.

"It is a new policy, but it is not a new phenomenon. I have been a GP for 25 years and, when I started, patients had choice. I could refer to any consultant in the country.

"Successive governments have, unfortunately, restricted that choice so that you could only refer to where local primary care trusts would allow.

"From 1 January that will change and that is good."

Dr Sharma, who works in Wolverhampton, said he was in favour of the initiative as it will give patients more power.

"As far as patients are concerned, they will see they are in the driving seat.

"They will be able to ask questions and make decisions."

However, he added there were some problems.

He said the government had not properly resourced the scheme and the technology underpinning it.

"One of the problems was that GPs were not properly consulted."

And he also said choice was likely to widen the gap between the rich and poor.

"The evidence is that choice is used by affluent sections of society. Issues such as transportation mean it is not always available to all."

DR ERIC ROSE

Dr Eric Rose
Dr Rose said the NHS already had choice to some extent

Dr Eric Rose said it was wrong to assume choice did not already exist in the NHS.

The Milton Keynes GP said it tended to centre on the local hospital, but he was able to give information about consultants that patients could see and then make recommendations.

He said the information he has on other hospitals does not give details on the standards of clinical care and, as he does not know the consultants in such detail, he was unable to advise patients. As a result, he said, choice was not real.

"Patients can make a choice on distance and car parking, but there is no clear measure on the quality of care and type of doctor they are going to be seen by."

And he said the vast majority of patients would prefer to be seen by someone who was "good at their job, treats them kindly and sees them quickly".

He added he was not sure the initiative would drive up standards.

"It is a charade. It is window dressing. I do not think it will improve service for my patients. I would want them to be seen more quickly."

However, he accepted that it may work in large cities where there were a number of hospitals, but in many areas patients would have to travel 20 or 40 miles to exercise choice.

SEE ALSO
Q&A: NHS reforms
04 Aug 05 |  Health
Is real NHS choice possible?
14 Nov 04 |  Health

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