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Doctors still confused on free choice of hospital, poll finds

By Steve Nowottny

More than half of GPs and specialists are still not aware of how to implement the Government's free choice policy seven months after it came into effect, according to a new survey.

A poll of 312 doctors for a website launched last week to allow doctors to give feedback on different hospitals found just 46% were aware that patients should be given a choice of any hospital for treatment, regardless of geography.

Most respondents incorrectly believed GPs could only refer a patient to a hospital which had a funding agreement with their PCT, or lay within their SHA.

The findings come as a further blow to the flagship free choice policy, following the publication last month of the latest figures from the Department of Health's national patient choice survey.

The DH survey found just 46% of patients recalled being offered a choice of hospital for their first outpatient appointment in July – down 2% from March.

Matt Jameson Evans, previously known as a co-founder of Remedy UK and director of the new nhsUnlocked.org website, said the figures were ‘significant' and pointed to a lack of awareness about the implications of the policy among grassroots doctors.

He claimed the site – which bills itself as ‘the antidote to all the recent rate-a-doc sites' – would help GPs recommend hospitals to patients based on first-hand feedback from both doctors and patients.

‘It's supposed to be a positive attempt driven by the medical profession to harness opinion,' he said.

‘In order for people to make meaningful decisions about where they would like to go for treatment, they need to have access to unbiased and independent information.

‘Otherwise it is like telling them they can have a holiday anywhere in the world – but not telling them anything about their potential destinations.'

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'It is concerning that some doctors don't have a better understanding of the choices available to their patients. The recent Healthcare Commission annual healthcheck highlighted this as a major concern.'

'We are looking at what more can be done to ensure people are given the choice they are entitled to. We are running a major Choice awareness campaign for the public and NHS staff.'

GPs and consultants remain confused about the Government's 'free choice' policy on hospital referrals

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