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Patients on waiting lists the longest can travel for treatment

Patients who have been on waiting lists the longest will be offered the opportunity to travel to a different hospital for treatment, according to new government plans.

Up to 400,000 eligible patients who have been on NHS waiting lists the longest will be offered the opportunity to travel to a different hospital for treatment, according to new government plans.

They can submit their details including how far they are willing to travel and NHS teams can then identify whether any alternative hospitals have capacity to see them sooner.

If no alternative hospital agreed with the patient is found within eight weeks of starting the process, the patient will remain with their current provider and keep their position on the waiting list. Some patients will not be eligible if their clinical condition is too complex, making it inappropriate to travel.

Eligible patients will be contacted directly by their NHS trust or independent sector provider and should not contact their GP practice or hospital.

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.

Mew approaches to reducing waiting lists

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.”

The NHS Confederation welcomed the scheme but warned that it will not be suitable for everybody as some patients will not feel able or comfortable to travel very far for their treatment, and others with more minor health complaints in fact may prefer to wait for an appointment to become available at their local healthcare provider.

Rory Deighton, director of NHS Confederation’s Acute Network, said: “Health leaders are all for enabling patients with greater choice over their care, and with the NHS facing severe capacity issues, this practical initiative will help up to 400,000 of the longest waiting patients get care more more quickly, while reducing pressure on some of the most strained parts of the system.

“Real wider choice for all patients is dream that can only be fully realised in a well-resourced health service, with a strong social care sector, sufficient workforce and a modern estate which facilitates greater productivity rather than hindering it.

“This is not the reality the NHS finds itself in though, and without fixing these underlying issues along with the symptoms of the problems, including industrial action and staff burnout, innovative initiatives like this may only deliver marginal gains.”

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