Patients awaiting treatment for months could travel for care

Patients in England who have been waiting for treatment for more than 40 weeks will be given the opportunity to seek care in another region or city within England.

During the next few weeks, about 400,000 individuals will be called and asked whether they would be willing to go and for how far. Patients already have the legal right to request treatment from a different provider.

However, NHS England is of the opinion that if they proactively approach the patients who have been waiting the longest, they would be able to help unlock some of the most severe bottlenecks in the system.

The text message, email, or physical letter containing the offer will only be sent to those individuals who do not already have an appointment planned within the next eight weeks.

The number 400,000 represents approximately 4-5% of the total number of people who are currently waiting for treatment.

If the patient is willing to make the trip, the treatment could take place in either a hospital run by the National Health Service (NHS) or a facility that is run by the private sector.

Those with limited financial resources will be eligible for some form of financial assistance in order to facilitate their travel to receive treatment.

Patients will maintain their spot on the waiting list at their community hospital even while additional treatment choices are being investigated.

Amanda Pritchard, who is the chief executive officer of NHS England, stated that it was "absolutely right" to make the most of existing capacity across the country in order to minimize backlogs.

Some hospitals are able to treat patients three times faster than others for basic orthopedic treatments like hip and knee surgery, although wait periods can vary widely from one facility to the next.

The United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Health, Steve Barclay, stated that giving patients more control over their healthcare decisions would help tackle waiting lists and enhance access to care.

Louise Ansari, who works as a patient watchdog with Healthwatch England, has voiced her contentment with the decision and stated that lengthy wait times were having a devastating impact on both the physical and mental well-being of the individuals affected by it.

On the other hand, she noted that in order for it to be successful, further financial backing was required. "People have also told us that they would appreciate the possibility to travel in order to receive care more quickly, as long as any additional costs that are incurred as a result of this traveling would be compensated."

She warned that existing inequities could become even more pronounced if people did not receive the assistance they required in order to shift.

Patient choice should not be regarded as a "magic bullet," according to Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, an organization that represents hospitals. "Long waiting times are a result of years of chronic workforce shortages and underinvestment in the NHS," she continued. "The NHS has been suffering from underinvestment and workforce shortages for years."