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Choose and Book 'failing to offer patients choice'

By Steve Nowottny

Choose and Book is failing to offer patients a genuine choice of hospital appointment, according to the first independent study of patients' experience of the system.

A small-scale survey of patients at Hillingdon Hospital by researchers at University College London found that 66% were not given a choice of date for their outpatient appointment, while 66% also said they were not given a choice of appointment time. 86% reported being given a choice of fewer than four hospitals, and 32% said they were not given a choice of any hospital.

Just one of the 104 patients surveyed said they had been offered a choice of four hospitals, appointment date and time.

Dr Henry Potts, from the UCL Centre for Health Informatics and Multiprofessional Education, who oversaw the study, said: ‘It is clear from these results that these patients were not experiencing the degree of choice that Choose and Book was designed to deliver. This may be only one hospital, with results taken in a transitional period, but we believe this could be typical of the national picture.'

A Connecting for Health spokesman said the UCL study, which was carried out between May and August 2006, was now out-of-date, and its findings had been superceded by the far larger National Patient Choice Survey.

‘The Choose and Book referral system has now been used for its 10 millionth booking,' he said. ‘The most recent National Patient Choice Survey was carried out in January 2008 and looked at 72,000 responses. It showed that progress is being made on choice of hospitals, with 67% of people going to the hospital they specifically chose.'

Dr Potts conceded that there had been some improvements with the system, but argued the National Patient Choice Survey – which also found that just 46% of patients recalled being offered choice – generally backed his own study's findings.

‘GP practices have learned to work with Choose and Book, and some of the details have been improved,' he said. ‘But fundamentally there are issues here that Choose and Book cannot solve around what choice is available in the healthcare service without having a considerable oversupply.'

‘The economic situation is that the choice we want offered isn't feasible. Giving people false choice is never going to solve that problem.'

Choice and Book is failing to offer patients choice Choice and Book is failing to offer patients choice

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