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PCT warns hospital over choose and book

By Steve Nowottny

A PCT has become the first in the country to take formal action over the abuse of Choose and Book to game the 18-week referral-to-treatment target by restricting appointment slots.

The move follows a letter in August from the Department of Health to SHA chief executives warning ‘significant numbers' of hospitals were restricting slot availability and that ‘the experience for patients is not what it should be'.

East and North Hertfordshire PCT, which has one of the lowest Choose and Book uptake rates in the country, has issued a performance notice to its local hospital trust over its use of the controversial booking system.

The notice followed repeated complaints by local GPs of slots being unavailable and booked appointments being cancelled.

A spokesperson for East and North Hertfordshire PCT told Pulse it had issued a performance notice as part of its Service Level Agreement ‘for the trust's below-expected achievement on the Choose and Book target'.

Performance notices are contractual interventions to address underperformance, and can lead to financial sanctions or even termination of contract.

A East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust spokesperson said the notice was ‘part of the routine process in how the PCT manages its contracts with the Trust' and that ‘to date, the PCT seems satisfied with the progress that we have made'.

Dr Peter Graves, chief executive of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMC, welcomed the performance notice, which he said had come after a direct approach to local hospitals had been met with ‘very little sympathy'.

He said: ‘There are sufficient numbers of motivated GPs locally that if it was working we would have much higher statistics - and that simply has not been the case.

‘I've got a number of examples where a patient has been promised an appointment by a GP, they get home and that appointment has disappeared off the screen.

‘We have had significant number of patients turn up at hospital to their appointment, which has been made using Choose and Book to find that clinic doesn't exist – and yet they are holding a letter saying "You've got an appointment."'

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