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Choose and Book: We told you so

No one likes a know-it-all, but once in a while, it’s OK to make an exception. So to the Department of Health, on behalf of the Pulse news team, here’s a big ‘We told you so.’

By Steve Nowottny

No one likes a know-it-all, but once in a while, it's OK to make an exception. So to the Department of Health, on behalf of the Pulse news team, here's a big ‘We told you so.'

I refer of course to the pilot study out today from the University Hospital Lewisham, on the attendance rate of patients referred through Choose and Book. Researchers found that patients referred through Choose and Book are 50% less likely to make their appointment than those referred through traditional means (ie, a letter).

When we called the Department of Health for comment this morning, they expressed mystification at the findings. ‘We are surprised by these findings given that all the other evidence suggests Choose and Book significantly reduces Did Not Attend rates,' a spokesperson said.

Actually, we'd beg to differ. Not that a Pulse investigation should ever be equated with scientific research, but it would be nice to think that the powers-to-be had at least read our front page story which, as long ago as June 2007, identified this very problem.

The crux of the matter is this – it's not about Did Not Attend rates, which Choose and Book may technically cut. It's about the total number of patients who never make it to an appointment. And in order to get that true figure, you have to take into account the one in ten Choose and Book patients who, once referred, never goes through with booking their appointment.

Read our June 2007 story again, and the figures are eerily prescient. The University Hospital, Lewisham study found that 18% of patients referred through Choose and Book failed to attend an appointment, compared to 12% of those referred through traditional means. The equivalent figures in our investigation, culled from 16 hospital trusts around the country, were 17% and 11% respectively.

Do the maths – and we did – and the scale of the problem becomes clear. In June 2007, a quarter of a million patients referred through Choose and Book had missed hospital appointments they would otherwise have attended. Now, that figure will be much, much more.

The Department added that, in light of the University Hospital, Lewisham study, ‘further research is being undertaken to test these findings and seek an explanation for them.' About time too.

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