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NHS managers attack patient choice agenda for ‘mismatch of expectation’

Health service managers have warned the Government’s choice agenda is creating a ‘mismatch of expectation’ among patients, and called for the NHS to be ‘more honest’ about its affordability and suitability.

Speaking at the Reform High Quality Healthcare conference in London this week, NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar questioned the wisdom of the choice agenda given its requirement for additional capacity, and said the NHS should be more discerning about where choice was applied.

He added that he believed that publishing data on performance was a better driver of quality than patient choice.

He told delegates: ‘I am worried. I think choice has become highly politicised, but largely in a rhetorical space.’

Mr Farrar said it was important to understand the ‘consequence of choice’, and called for the NHS to be ‘more forensic’ about where it was suitable to apply choice, and ‘more honest about where choice is feasible’.

He also pointed out that if choice was to be used as a key driver to improve quality, an acknowledgement was needed that excess capacity was needed. ‘If we are serious about choice being a driver quality, we have got to understand the economics of supply and demand,’ he said.

The former head of NHS North West SHA said his experience of driving improvements in the service suggested allowing providers to access data on their performance had a much greater impact on improving the service than patient choice.

‘Publishing data was the real driving force,’ he said.