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Patients say Choose and Book is irrelevant

Patients see Choose and Book as an irrelevance that is having no impact on their satisfaction with the care they receive, a major survey by the Government's health watchdog reveals.

Having a choice of hospital, a choice of admission date and information about different hospitals were all rated as very low priorities by the 450 patients surveyed by the Healthcare Commission.

When the patients were asked to prioritise the importance of 82 different aspects of care, the three 'patient choice' questions all came in the bottom 10.

The findings will come as an embarrassing blow to the Government, which has put its patient choice agenda at the centre of NHS reform. They also vindicate GPs' complaints that time and money is being wasted on a system that adds little to the patient experience.

Figures published by Pulse last week revealed that the full roll-out of Choose and Book across England is set to cost more than £200m.The Picker Institute, which conducted the survey, has told the commission that questions on patient choice are not worth including in next year's wider survey of patient satisfaction with hospital care.

Patients in the survey said their top priorities were having confidence in a hospital's clinical staff, having their questions answered clearly and whether hospital staff washed their hands between patients.

Dr Sally Hope, a GP from Woodstock, Oxfordshire, said the survey provided further evidence that Choose and Book should be scrapped. 'Choose and Book is driving us mad. It has made things worse. You should try explaining the principles of it to an 80-year-old who is blind and deaf. For every 10 patients I see it adds another hour to my consultation times.'

GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'This survey demonstrates what we have been saying for years. The vast majority of patients are more than happy to go to a local hospital and are not interested in choosing alternatives.'

A system was needed where GPs could book a referral electronically, but were not hampered by having to give lists of choices, he added. 'It would work better if we took the Choose out of Choose and Book.'

NHS Alliance chair Dr Mike Dixon, a GP in Cullompton, Devon, said he helped patients choose a hospital but got a practice secretary to do the booking.

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