Patients are now able to choose to have out-of-area outpatient appointments if they are willing to make their own journey.
NHS England has expanded a new hospital ‘matching’ platform which allows patients to be seen elsewhere, including at private hospitals, in order to bring down elective backlogs.
The online tool will mean staff can add available slots, and clinical teams in other hospitals can log on and match up patients who have been waiting the longest and are willing to travel.
The NHS waiting list in England has grown once more to a new high of to 7.6 million people, figures up to the end of June show, with 383,083 waiting more than a year for treatment.
The matching platform first launched in January for hospital admissions alone, but is now expanding to include cancer, diagnostic checks and outpatient appointments.
This tool is part of the NHS’s wider aim to reduce backlogs from Covid-19 and to ‘virtually eliminate 65 week waits by April 2024’.
To help NHS and independent sector organisations decide if they can take on the patient, the platform includes information such as how far they are willing to travel, the severity of the illness, their BMI, and their current wait time.
Patients have a choice of provider if more than one makes an offer of treatment.
Since January, more than 1,700 offers have been made by providers, with a focus on gynaecology, colorectal, and trauma and orthopaedics.
The hospital matching tool is an example of NHS mutual aid, whereby organisations agree to provide assistance and additional resource to one another. NHSE has said this is a ‘key part’ of its elective recovery plan.
Chief executive of the Patients Association Rachel Power said they welcome the platform’s expansion and are ‘very supportive of mutual aid’.
She said: ‘Patient choice has been a right for over a decade but not all patients are aware they have the right, and it isn’t always offered to them.
‘Hopefully, making it easy for health professionals to easily see the choices of where patients can be treated will increase the number of patients who can take advantage of mutual aid within the NHS.’
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: ‘Despite significant pressure on services, NHS staff have already made incredible progress against our elective recovery plan, and this smart new tool will help us to continue to reduce long waits for patients.’
She added: ‘Technology is already transforming the way we work in the NHS and we will continue to embrace the latest innovations, like this one, to deliver the best possible for care for patients.’
Maximising the independent sector forms part of other recently announced NHS initiatives, with eight of the 13 new GP-accessible diagnostic centres being led by private companies.
GPs will be able to directly order diagnostic checks from these centres to identify conditions including COPD, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and heart failure without a specialist consultation.