THE UK GOVERNMENT has announced that patients in England will be able to use the NHS App to choose where they are treated after a referral from their GP. 

Commenting on the announcement, Dr Kieran Sharrock, acting chair of the BMA England GP committee, said: “There are 7.3 million people waiting for operations or procedures in England, many of whom will be in pain, distress and not living their lives to the full.

“While we agree that patients should be at the centre of decision-making about their care, doctors working in both primary and secondary care are acutely aware that our patients just want to be seen in good time and close to home. It is long waiting lists, due to the long-term undervaluing of NHS staff and poor workforce planning, that are preventing this from happening, not a lack of patient choice.

“Whilst we fully support patients being given the choice where they wish to access care, and appreciate that NHS capacity must be utilised as efficiently as possible, this is not an answer to the huge waiting lists we face, and the announcement comes with little acknowledgement of its impact on primary care. Unless extra resource is provided to support this initiative then it will inevitably reduce GPs’ capacity to deal with patients’ clinical problems.

The [UK] Government also fails to acknowledge that not all patients have access to a smart phone, and makes no reference to how they intend on ensuring that it does not digitally exclude marginalised groups.

“There are no shortcuts here – in order to make real progress, the Government must focus its efforts on addressing the workforce crisis across the NHS, investing in the health and appropriately valuing staff. That is the only way to tackle the record-breaking backlog and help patients who are desperate to be treated swiftly and close to home.”

Health is a devolved matter in Scotland, where the devolved Government there is pursuing a different approach to patient involvement and public sector accountability.

* Source: British Medical Association