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18-week rule misses its target

Back in 2006, Pulse revealed that hospitals were using Choose and Book to ‘grey out’ referral options, as they came under pressure to meet Government waiting time targets.

Back in 2006, Pulse revealed that hospitals were using Choose and Book to ‘grey out' referral options, as they came under pressure to meet Government waiting time targets.



Since then, the Department of Health has upped the ante on waiting times – with all trusts to meet its new 18-week target by the end of 2008.

Predictably enough, hospitals have risen to the challenge, by finding creative new ways of using the Choose and Book system to restrict referral choice.

Pulse's latest investigation finds some hospitals have halved the number of weeks GPs can book an appointment in advance, as they rush to block bookings that might break the 18-week threshold.

All of this allows one Government target to make a mockery of another – the requirement for all patients to be offered a choice of a full range of hospitals.

Unacceptable misuse

Connecting for Health, for its part, insists that Choose and Book is emphatically not at fault – but rather that hospitals are ‘unacceptably' misusing the system.

Nevertheless, the use of Choose and Book to restrict – rather than enhance – choice, is an embarrassment to IT bosses, and one that privately leaves them fuming with frustration.

But just because the reduction in referral slots is not a technical fault of Choose and Book does not absolve Connecting for Health of responsibility in dealing with the problem.

IT bosses need to start putting serious pressure on rogue hospitals to stop using the booking system in such a flagrantly irresponsible way.

And if they can't, they need to enrol the help of the Department of Health to do the job for them. Ministers must realise that their 18-week target is worthless if it can only be hit by creative record-keeping and a dodgy online juggling act.

In the meantime, the actions of a few maverick managers continue to erode confidence in the Choose and Book system.

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