Hundreds of thousands of NHS patients who have been waiting the longest for treatment will be offered the opportunity to travel to a different hospital, if it means they could be seen sooner.
From today, any patient who has been waiting longer than 40 weeks and does not have an appointment within the next eight weeks will be contacted by their hospital via letter, text, or email, as announced by the NHS and government earlier this year.
As part of the ambitious NHS elective recovery plan, offers will be sent to up to 400,000 eligible patients who will then be able to submit their details including how far they are willing to travel – 50 miles, 100 miles or nationally. NHS teams can then identify whether any alternative hospitals have capacity to see them sooner.
In some instances, the patient’s request will be uploaded to the NHS’ innovative hospital matching platform – the Digital Mutual Aid System – to see if NHS or independent sector providers elsewhere in the country can take on their care.
Despite significant pressure and ongoing industrial action, the NHS has continued to recover elective services with over 87,000 more people treated in August than the same month before the pandemic.
The progress is thanks to the hard work of NHS staff and thanks to innovations including surgical hubs, community diagnostic centres, and the use of robots and AI to speed up surgery and other treatments.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive said: “Despite pressure and the huge disruption caused by strikes, NHS staff have made great progress in reducing the longest waits for patients – this new step to offer NHS patients who have been waiting the longest the opportunity to consider travelling for treatment is just another example of how we are introducing new approaches to reduce how long patients wait, while improving the choice and control they have over their own care.
“Giving this extra option to these patients also demonstrates the clear benefits of a single national health service, with staff able to share capacity right across the country.
“So, whether a patient’s care moves to the next town or somewhere further away, it is absolutely right that we make the most of available capacity across the country to continue to reduce the backlogs that have inevitably built up due to the pandemic and provide the best possible service for patients.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Empowering people to choose where and when they receive their treatment will help tackle waiting lists and improve access to NHS care.
“From today, those waiting 40 weeks or more will be given more options to speed up treatment, including at hospitals with shorter waiting times or using capacity within the independent sector.
“This is the next step in our plan build a health service around patients and follows on from the roll out of Community Diagnostic Centres, surgical hubs and virtual wards to unlock capacity in the NHS.”