The UK Government has announced plans to launch the ‘expansion of patient choice’ within the National Health Service (NHS) in over a decade to provide patients with access to a broader range of healthcare services.  

This proposed expansion will allow patients to select from various services across the NHS and independent sectors, potentially leading to faster and more convenient treatment options. 

The effort, which may include services such as endoscopy, nutrition, and podiatry, will further see NHS England collaborating with integrated care boards (ICBs) to initiate pilot schemes in local areas starting this autumn.  

These pilots will be instrumental in determining the feasibility of extending patient choice to additional services and regions, based on their outcomes. 

The government asserts that enhanced patient choice could contribute to reduced waiting times when alternative options are available and clinically suitable.  

It may also influence the existing crisis of longer waiting lists by motivating providers to offer appointments or prioritise patients who have been waiting longer across the system. 

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Pilot programmes may include services such as podiatry, dietetics and nutrition, hearing aid care, ambulatory ECG (heart activity) and some diagnostic tests, such as endoscopy. 

In addition, NHS England will commence detailed discussions with a subset of ICBs to explore the possibility of rolling out choices for specific care pathways within local areas.  

Currently, patients have the liberty to choose their care location when referred to an in-hospital consultant-led service. They are provided with information on a minimum of five providers, including details on travel distance and waiting times, to aid in their decision-making. 

The government and NHS are also planning to implement the recommendations from the chair of the Independent Patient Choice and Procurement Panel to dismantle barriers to patient choice by enhancing data availability on choice and appointment bookings. 

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Expanding choice will not only help get patients the care they need more quickly but is part of our plan to cut waiting lists, building on the progress we have already made with a fall of almost 200,000 since September.”