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Patient Choice

Volume 460: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2007

Next month we shall be launching a new online information service, NHS Choices, that will give patients easy access to information about conditions, treatments and hospitals. It will help the public to make informed choices about their own health, including when and where they receive treatment.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer, but I hope that we have made improvements and alleviated some of the teething problems that were experienced last year. A constituent came to see me over choose and book. She was referred to a dermatology department, and when she rang to make the appointment she was asked which hospital she wanted. When she asked for her local hospital, she was told that the waiting list was too long and was referred to one 20 miles away. When she said that she would prefer to wait a bit longer, she was told that that was not possible. The matter was eventually sorted through the patient advice and liaison service, but surely choice means that patients, if they wish, should be able to choose to wait a little bit longer to go to their local hospital.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I hope that we have now made that crystal clear to NHS hospitals. A local hospital is obliged to treat all patients who choose to be treated there if that is clinically appropriate, and if a patient wants to wait longer than, for instance, the current six-month maximum target for in-patient treatment, of course they are free to choose to do so—provided they are told that when they make their booking. The way that we are extending choice for patients is in accordance with what patients themselves have said they want, and we know from experience over several years that it is a way of ensuring that hospitals respond by giving patients faster and better care.

Patient choice means being treated with dignity, so what confidence can we have in a Government who may parrot choice, but whose claim to have delivered it to patients wishing to avoid mixed-sex wards is strongly contradicted by experience and by data published by the Healthcare Commission?

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, the commitment that we made to ensure that everyone had single-sex sleeping accommodation, bathrooms and toilets did not extend—because it could not—to accident and emergency, and to medical admission units. That is one reason why there is a real difference between the reports that we have had from the hospital trusts and the reports of patient experience. Nevertheless—the chief nursing officer recently published press guidance on this—we have identified those hospital trusts that are really struggling to meet the commitment that patients are entitled to expect, that in, as it were, normal wards, they should have single-sex sleeping accommodation, bathrooms and toilets, and we are giving the NHS extra support, and indeed holding it accountable for delivering that. But I regret that the hon. Gentleman did not mention that the same Healthcare Commission survey found that even more hospital patients are satisfied or very satisfied with the care that they have had from the NHS in the last year.