Patients can choose between 'multiple providers'
A nurse makes a hospital bed.

In the midst of increasing pressures on NHS services, the government has said that patients requiring treatment outside of hospitals can choose between multiple providers across the NHS and independent sector.

They said this expansion of choice will give patients access to faster, more convenient treatment.

The Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) showed that private hospitals cared for 665,000 people, a combination of PMI and “self-payers”, between January and September 2023 – a new record and seven per cent higher year on year.

As NHS wait times are set to remain above pre-pandemic levels until 2030, the health service is seeking ways to reduce waiting for patients as well as taking some of the pressure off NHS staff.

Services that could be offered under the expansion include endoscopy, nutrition and podiatry. NHS England will be engaging with integrated care boards (ICBs) with a view to launching pilots in local areas from the autumn.

ICBs in areas across the country are expected to participate in some form. NHS England will also actively encourage ICBs to consider expanding the range of providers of services already covered by existing choice regulations, such as mental health.  

Improved patient choice can lead to shorter waiting times for patients, where another option is available and is clinically appropriate. It may also have an impact on the overall longer waiter position by either incentivising providers to offer appointments or enabling prioritisation of long waiters across the system.

Chief Executive of health and social care coalition charity National Voices, Jacob Lant, said: "Giving patients and their families more choice is always positive, as it helps people to make healthcare decisions that fit around their lives and responsibilities.

"It is vital that services help patients understand these choices and promote the support they can offer with common barriers, such as transport costs." 

He added that wraparound support like this ensures choice is "meaningful and everyone can access and benefit."

Prime minister Rishi Sunak, said the announcement represents the "largest expansion of choice in the NHS in a decade."

He added: "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."