Lack of public awareness in choice of hospitals when accessing NHS treatment

A new poll by Populus has identified a lack of public awareness in choice of hospitals when accessing NHS treatment.

Populus interviewed 6116 adults online including 2314 who had been referred for an outpatient appointment by their GP within the last 12 months. It found that less than half of the public are aware that they can choose where they receive their NHS-funded hospital treatment despite the legal right to patient choice having been in place for over a decade.

While NHS England has committed to ensuring that by 2020 all patients are aware of the choices available to them when choosing their NHS treatment, just 48% of the public are currently aware of these legal rights.

Patients have the right to choose to be treated at a public or independent hospital in England with hospitals paid the same for the procedure.

While strong commitments around enabling patient choice were a key feature of both the NHS Five Year Forward View and the recent NHS Long Term Plan, it remains the case that too few patients know they can choose where to be treated including finding a provider with lower waiting times – despite NHS waiting times having risen to their highest in a decade.

The poll was undertaken by Populus on behalf of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, which represents independent sector healthcare organisations, who are calling for the Government to take urgent action to dramatically improve public awareness of patient choice and ensure that patients are supported to make the best treatment decisions for them.

David Hare, Chief Executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network said: “When NHS waiting times are at their highest in a decade, it is disappointing that patients’ awareness of their legal right to choose the fastest possible treatment for them remains so low. Despite strong commitments from both the Government and the NHS to strengthen the public’s choice rights, today’s poll shows that we are still a long way from all NHS patients knowing that they have the right to choose the best provider for them.

“Making patients aware of their right to choose is not just the right thing to do but leads to tangible improvements in patient outcomes. We therefore want to see a renewed push to kickstart the patient power agenda so that all patients can receive the fastest possible access to treatment in the setting of their choice.”