Almost half of patients referred to hospital by their GP can recall being offered choice, according to fully published results of the Department of Health’s (DH) National Patient Choice Survey from March 2007.

However, provisional findings from the latest May 2007 survey show a fall in the recall of choice, with just 44% saying they could recall being offered a choice. All the provisional findings, indicate less people are seeing the benefits of choice.

If these provisional findings prove true, it would be a blow to the DH which has invested heavily in initiatives to encourage choice. In April EHI Primary Care reported that use of Choose and Book by GPs had fallen.

Last year, the former health minister Lord Warner announced a new library pilot project alongside regional and national versions of the ‘Choosing your hospital’ booklet, in a bid to help make patients remember being offered choice by their GPs. These were formally launched in April by health secretary, Patricia Hewitt.

48% of respondents were able to recall being offered a choice of hospitals in the March survey, up 18% from the first survey in May/June 2006. Over 75,000 patients responded to the March 2007 survey between 18 and 31 March.

To summarise the main findings of the March 2007 survey:

• More patients recalled being offered a choice of hospital for their first outpatient appointment: 48% in March, up from 45% in the January survey and 30% in the first (May/June 2006) survey.

• 37% of patients were aware before they visited their GP that they had a choice of hospitals for their first appointment, up from 6% in January and 29% in the May/June 2006 survey.

• 66% of patients who were aware of choice recalled being offered choice, whereas 38% of those not aware of choice recalled being offered it, compared with 64% and 34% respectively in the January survey.

• 36% of patients who were offered a choice of hospital were also offered a copy of the ‘Choosing your hospital’ booklet, up from 32% in January and 20% in the May/June 2006 survey.

• 78% of patients who were offered choice were satisfied with the process and 5% were dissatisfied, similar to the January survey.

• Location or transport considerations were given most often, by 66% of patients, as an important factor when choosing a hospital.

Health minister, Lord Hunt, said: “This shows that the situation is improving. There is a definite correlation between local awareness and patient recall of choice. We are serious about choice and I expect performance will improve as PCTs act on the results of the survey and learn from those areas where performance is already high.”

It is hoped that the newly-launched NHS Choices website, will also provide searchable directories on hospitals, GPs and care homes; and comparative data on hospital waiting times, cleanliness and readmission rates, which will help to encourage choice further.

GP practices have now been advised to start using new Read codes to record choice of hospital as soon as possible in order to qualify for incentive scheme payments this year.

The March survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI, is the sixth national patient choice survey commissioned to assess the implementation of choice at PCT level. The surveys are designed to monitor patient awareness of choice and recall of having been offered a choice of hospital for their first outpatient appointment and provide a national overview of choice and summary results at PCT level.


Report of the National Patient Choice Survey, England – March 2007