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NHS patients choose hospitals through local libraries
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13rd November 2006
Adrienne Penfield

Lord Warner today announced a new library pilot project alongside new choice booklets to help patients make more informed choices in their healthcare. This comes at a time when more PCTs are offering choice and new choice booklets become available in all 152 PCTs in England.

 Giving patients the flexibility to choose from a range of hospitals and clinics is essential to create a better, more responsive NHS
 Lord Warner
The Partnership for Patients project will allow members of the public as well as under-represented groups such as members from the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) community, older people, rural communities and people with disabilities to access choice of health provider through their local library.

Since 1 January this year, NHS patients have had the right to choose from a list of at least four providers when referred for treatment by their GP. In May, that choice was extended nationally to include NHS Foundation Trusts and independent sector treatment centres.

Lord Warner also announced the introduction of regional and national versions of the new Choosing your hospital booklets. The regional versions will include local health provider information for every PCT in England. The national version will include a 'national menu' of providers available to patients in any PCT in the country. Both booklets will contain information on hospital and independent provider waiting times, cancelled operations, MRSA rates and patient experience ratings conducted by the healthcare commission.

Lord Warner said:

"Giving patients the flexibility to choose from a range of hospitals and clinics is essential to create a better, more responsive NHS. Across all PCTs we know over a third are being offered choice, and in some, 60% of patients are receiving it. The Choosing you hospital booklets and our work with libraries will accelerate choice opportunities for patients.

"The Partnership for Patients pilot is an excellent cost effective project as it utilises the resources of public libraries to help people make an informed choice about their healthcare options. There are 3041 public libraries in England that are visited 274 million times a year, have 21690 staff and a budget of £1.13 billion. This is a huge resource to help the NHS connect with its communities.

"Patients will be able to obtain a new copy of the Choosing your hospital booklet from the pilot libraries as well as their GP surgeries and decide which healthcare provider best suits their needs based on the criteria they feel is most important to them."

The project will be piloted in 27 libraries with three libraries in each of the pilot areas. The pilot areas are Derbyshire, Gloucestershire and seven London boroughs: Bromley, Southwark, Newham, Hackney, Greenwich, Haringey and Waltham Forest.

The scheme will advertise choice options in libraries through choice-trained librarians, broadband enabled computers, plasma screens, banners and poster publicity.

Culture Minister David Lammy said:

"Public libraries have always played a vital role in serving communities, providing people with a trusted source of information and support. So I welcome this pilot project which will use both the resources they contain and the skill of the library staff to help people find the best place for medical treatment. I look forward to seeing the results of the pilot next autumn."

Members of the public will be able to select a special 'Choice' icon on the library computer network that will provide information on choice of providers available in their local area and assistive technology in libraries will be able to support disabled PC users.

Librarians can also help members of the public not familiar with technology by printing out hospital or clinic information for them and helping them with the technology.

GPs will be able to direct patients to their local library for their hospital appointment if patients need more time and information to choose their provider. At the library, patients can research their choices and then book their appointment through the 'Choose and Book' system using the broadband enabled library computers. Librarians will also be available to help support patients accessing information and technology.

An independent evaluation will be commissioned to test patients' satisfaction with the model and help explore how choice can be made socially inclusive by contrasting findings in rural and urban areas, deprived and wealthy communities and those with high and low minority ethnic populations.

Minister for Rural Affairs Barry Gardiner said:

"I am very pleased that Defra have been able to support this project, which will help us to better understand the potential for the public library network to offer patient choice, specifically looking at the differences experienced by people served by smaller, part-time and mobile libraries. It will offer a valuable addition to our rural evidence base, and provide properly tested examples of good practice."

The Department of Health also today published the first patient choice survey results five months after the scheme started from the end of May 2006, which showed that nationally three in ten people were offered a choice of hospital for their first appointment. Some PCTs have performed extremely well in the first survey whilst some others have not performed as well.

Lord Warner said:

"This is the first in a series of surveys collated at the end of May 2006 that shows how well PCTs are offering choice to patients. In 14 PCTS, at least 60 per cent of patients were offered a choice by their GP for their first hospital appointment. These PCTs prove that choice can work.

"However, some PCTs have performed less well and this has brought down the national average to 30% - this is not good enough and we will need to support these PCTs to improve.

Top performing PCTs include:

- West Cumbria
- Broxtowe and Hucknall
- Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale
- North Devon
- Nottingham City
- Chorley and South Ribble
- Fylde
- Erewash
- Gedling
- Wyre
- Morecambe Bay
- Rushcliffe
- Cherwell Vale

PCTs that scored below 10% include:

- Hastings and St Leonards
- Bradford City Teaching
- Southend On Sea

Other data published today also reveal that 75% of patients who were offered choice were satisfied with the process compared to 5% who were unsatisfied. Additionally, more than half of all patients who were previously aware of their right to choice, recall being offered choice.

Lord Warner added:

"Preliminary results from the second set of survey results at the end of July indicate an increase in the national average figure to 35% - this shows that the situation is improving. There is a definite correlation between local awareness and patient recall of choice.

"We are serious about Choice and I expect performance will improve as PCTs act on the results of the survey and learn from those areas where performance is already high. The Partnership for Patients project and the new Choosing your hospital booklets will help PCTs raise local awareness of choice."

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