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Last Updated: Monday, 1 August 2005, 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK
NHS choice 'not exciting public'
Waiting room
From the end of the year patients will get a choice of up to five hospitals
The public have once again turned their noses up at NHS choice with a huge majority saying they just want good local services, a survey suggests.

The report by consumer watchdog Which? found 89% put a good local hospital ahead of a choice of places.

A similar number, 85%, said having good GPs close to home was better than being able to pick one from further afield.

But the government said patient choice, which kicks in for hospitals in December, would drive up standards.

From the end of the year, patients needing hospital treatment will be able to choose from up to five hospitals, at least one of which will be from the private sector.

People needing treatment will get a choice of up to five hospitals from December, including one private sector provider
But these options will be limited to hospitals which have a contract with the patient's primary care trust, meaning in most cases they will be local
Next year the choice will be widened to 50 hospitals, including private and foundation hospitals across the country

From the following April, it will be extended to include 50 hospitals - local hospitals, private providers and foundation trusts.

The policy for primary care is still being drawn up.

But a White Paper expected in the autumn could include freedom to choose GPs close to workplaces rather than just homes, and the ability for patients to self-refer themselves to nurses and physiotherapists.

However, previous research has shown the public is sceptical about the policy.

A British Medical Association poll in July found patient choice ranked bottom of a poll of the 10 most important NHS issues - hospital cleanliness was top.


Frances Blunden, author or the Which? report, said: "Increased patient choice is not the answer to all the problems of the NHS.

"It will not automatically improve standards or ensure that people get the sort of care they need, when they need it."

Currently patients are able to choose from any GP whose catchment area they reside in
But in practice 14% of the population live in areas with closed lists so choice is more limited
The government is due to set out in the autumn how choice will be extended to primary care, this could include allowing patients to register at GPs near to their workplaces and other areas apart from their local neighbourhoods

However, the survey of 1,744 did reveal that patients wanted choice in one area - three-quarters said they should be able to choose an appointment time that is convenient to them.

Simon Williams, director of policy at the Patients Association, said: "Patient choice could lead to an improvement in standards. It will give hospitals incentives to clean their act up."

But he added that, for it to work, patients would need access to good quality information about health services.

And Joe Farrington-Douglas, a health researcher at the Institute for Public Policy Research, added it will depend on how mobile a patient is and how health illiterate, but patient choice is a way of empowering the public.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Choice leads to better local services because as patients 'vote with their feet' they create an incentive for hospitals to respond to their needs and provide the services they want.

"This means that patients' choices have a real impact on improving the NHS."

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