The competitions regulator has said it is ‘disappointed’ that too few GPs are offering choice to patients around hearing loss treatment.
In a report published by Monitor last week, NHS adult hearing services in England: exploring how choice is working for patients, the regulator claimed that offering choice in adult hearing services has increased demand by more than 30% in the first year in some areas
But GPs cited in the report raised concerns that the increased demand was being induced by providers and would create budgetary pressures.
Monitor said that the increasing accessibility of the service and the presence of unmet demand were largely responsible and said that they expected the increased total spend on hearing loss to benefit patients.
The report, based mainly on interviews and a survey of over 1,200 patients, said: ‘Choice has prompted many providers to tailor their services to patients’ needs. Patients need to be aware of their right to choose a provider and have access to information about the options available to them’.
The benefits of choice laid out in the report included more tailored services, better value for money, increased transparency and better accessibility.
But the report added: ‘If patients are unaware of their ability to choose, they will not be able to exercise a choice unless their GP offers them a choice at the point of referral. We were disappointed to learn that very few patients were actually offered choice.’
Only one in 10 patients had been offered a choice of provider, only one in five recalled a discussion with their GP about which specialist they might go to, and half of those who were offered a choice were given no information to help them choose, it claimed.
The report admitted that GPs and commissioners raised concerns that the introduction of choice has had, or might have, negative consequences for the quality of patient care.
Monitor did not undertake an assessment of the impact of choice on patient outcomes.