GPs in one area of England will be asking patients whether they would prefer to have surgery in France, it has been revealed.
The situation has arisen after NHS South Kent Coast CCG invited providers to apply to be contracted with the CCG for elective surgery under the Any Qualified Provider (AQP) scheme.
Two hospitals in Calais – Foundation Hospedale and Calais Hospital – have applied to be on the list of approved providers of treatments including general surgery, gynaecology, cataract surgery, pain management and orthopaedics, the CCG said.
Under AQP, GPs have to give patients a choice of providers when referring them for treatments on the NHS, and the chosen provider then gets reimbursed for the cost by CCGs. It was introduced by the Coalition Government in 2012 to stimulate competition between providers and act as a ‘lever’ to improve access and quality.
Patients opting for treatment in France will have to fund their travel themselves, and post-operation follow-ups will be offered either by phone or Skype or a visit back to the hospital.
A CCG spokesperson said plenty of NHS patients are already making ‘similar choices’ as this was ‘no different’ to choosing for example London hospital for treatment, with the ‘cost and distances easily comparable’.
Accountable officer Hazel Carpenter said the CCG is expecting to finalise a contract with the two hospitals by the end of the year, after having visted the hospitals, assessed their services and concluded that they ‘fulfilled our criteria’.
She said: ‘It will then be possible for patients who need this treatment to choose to have it in France if they wish, after discussion with their GPs. The NHS will pay for their medical treatment but patients will pay their own travel and other incidental costs.
‘It is purely a matter of choice and we will be very interested to see how many people take it up and what feedback they give us.’
GPs have been told they ‘need to do more’ to offer patients choice of provider when it comes to outpatient referrals, after a Monitor report last year suggested just over one third are given a choice of hospital.