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Health minister blames GPs for failing to offer patients choice - and claims 'many doctors take any excuse to keep appointments as short as possible'

A health minister has accused GPs of undermining the Government’s choice agenda by keeping appointments ‘as short as possible’ and taking the ‘easiest’ option of sending patients to ‘tried and familiar secondary providers’.

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum event on the future of the NHS, Earl Howe said choice remained an important principle for patients, but there needed to be a ‘cultural change’ among clinicians.

The health minister told delegates that Choose and Book had not taken hold in the system, and blamed GPs for not pointing patients towards the scheme. He said that NHS England was looking at new ways of making providing choice ‘real’.

Earl Howe said at the event: ‘We are not doing enough to address the choice agenda. I think everyone believes in it – it is enshrined in the NHS Constitution. Patient choice is important. It is often said to me “not everyone wants choice”. And that is true. But we know that a lot of people value choice – it is one way of empowering patients.’

However, this was been undermined by clinicians, he warned. He said the choice agenda was ‘a cultural change’.

He added: ‘There are many doctors who take any excuse to keep the appointments with their patients as short as possible and to direct them to the tried and familiar secondary care provider because that is the easiest way to proceed.’

‘It is not doing the patients a favour and we will see in the information coming out of patient questionnaires the extent to which choice is being offered and that I hope will drive a push from NHS England and CCGs who have to demonstrate in the way that they operate that they are living by the letter and the spirit of the agenda.’

Earl Howe said that Choose and Book had not shown its full potential. He said: ‘We had things like Choose and Book for some years, but it has not taken sufficient hold in the system. There are many GPs who don’t point their patients to Choose and Book. We are actively addressing that at the moment, actively updating it, which we call the e-referrals system, so that it does provide a richer choice for patients at point of referral. We are also looking at other ways to prompt patients to be aware they have choice, to promote the NHS Constitution.’

NHS England is looking at ‘all sorts of mechanisms… to make the choice agenda real,’ Earl Howe added. ‘I think we will see some announcements coming out in the next few months.’

Last year, a wide-ranging DH initiative to force GPs to engage with the choice agenda outlined proposals to force practices to adopt ‘labour-intensive’ alternatives if they refuse to use Choose and Book. The electronic system for booking appointments is to be relaunched, based on the design of a flight booking website.

Readers' comments (49)

  • Good grief! Who is this idiot?

    Has he heard of commissioning? Is he aware of the crisis in manpower? Does he know that the real budget in health is being slashed?

    When does the grouse shooting season open again?

    The only choice patients will have soon is whether to "go private", attend the nearest Tescodocoftheday241 clinic or roll up at the nearest A&E. .

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  • Can you imagine if he said this about another profeesion e.g " teachers have too much time off", "policemen eat too many doughnuts" kind of thing.
    Who on earth is advising the government currently?why aren`t the BMA getting "nasty" back??
    I believe in the NHS, but My wife , me, and several colleagues are very very close to saying "thats enough we are off"- and we are not in the position to take VER, just fed up!

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  • They blame everyone but themselves. They created this mess and it is clear they did so to create a market. This market supports their donors, it supports the companies who employ so many Lords and MPs.

    It is clear that private healthcare are having a moan and the Earl is chirping up on their behalf. Why shouldn't he, it is who he represents.

    The party are wrecking the NHS, treating medical staff and GPs like idiots and - making them squeal then saying take more of your time to make our market-based policy work.

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  • As someone who met Lord Howe a few years ago during an NHS consultation exercise, I fail to have ANY faith in this man at all.
    He has no interest in the NHS, no idea about deprivation and chronic disease legacies of heavy industry and quite frankly is one of the most insincere and patronising politicians it has been my displeasure to meet.

    His life experience is so far removed from those people who make up the majority of patients in the system that IMHO he has no place preaching about the quality of a service that he and other government representatives are currently dismantling piece by piece and selling off to the highest bidder, N.B. NOT quality service providers!

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  • Peter Swinyard

    No. Not keeping appointments as short as possible but more interested in the patient's agenda during the precious time I have with them than the government's. Choice is ephemeral for most referrals outside the metropolis. C&B still so clunky it takes half an appt to use

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  • I just developed an acute GI bleed on reading this rubbish.

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  • In my experience, GPs and the secondary HPC they refer patients to, use every Kafkaesque like tactic at their disposal to obfuscate real patient choice (especially when it come to mental health) because it is more important for HPC to 'prove that they are right' and most retain control than listen to patients individual need - its the old 'I'm omnipotent' story. The doctors own agenda and emotions comes into play. The general attitude on this forum to Personal Health Budgets proves the point. The NHS is still run for the benefit of itself rather than patients.

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  • 1) The above poster obviously has issues that need to be addressed elsewhere and not on a public forum
    2) What is an HPC?
    3) Mental health contracts in nearly all areas are single provider - choice doesn't exist because there is only one provider
    4) Mental health is chronically underfunded and wasting time and money on drum kits and theatre tickets (aka Personal Health Budgets) won't help resolve this.

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  • @4.49pm
    What exactly is your point??
    As usual Dr Swinyard has his finger on the pulse, -do you want the local DGH or travel 80 plus miles away -local please!
    Completely Lnodon-centric tosh, as you would expect from someone in the Westminster Village.
    @3.40pm-the "Glorious Twelfth" (12 Aug) actually!

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  • What is the point of detailed negotiations by CCGs with service providers to get the best value for their patients if those patients then all exercise their choices to go to many other service providers where no detailed or value contract has been arranged?

    Does this buffoon understand anything at all about the NHS his government is supposed to be running?

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