UK’s Sunak Encourages NHS Patients to Book Private Health Care

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak’s government promised a shake-up of health care in England that will allow patients to book free treatment in private hospitals, in an effort to cut record waiting lists.

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Patients will be able to use the NHS app or website to choose from up to five providers — including in the independent sector — for operations, scans and procedures, the Department for Health and Social Care said in a statement.

Sunak is keen to make a big offer on the NHS to win over voters ahead of a general election expected next year. His Conservative Party is trailing by a double-digit margin behind Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, which has promised fundamental reform of the health service if it wins power.

Read More: Britain’s Cherished NHS Wrestles With Its ‘Reform or Die’ Moment

Both Labour and the Tories are open to greater use of private health care to ease pressure on an NHS that is buckling under the strain of more than 7 million patients waiting for elective care.

Private providers already supply extra capacity in hospitals for surgery and beds, and Sunak said he wants to give patients more choice. After speaking with their family doctor, patients would be able to view information from providers filtered by distance, waiting times and quality of care.

“We know many patients want to be given a choice as it can dramatically reduce their wait for NHS care,” David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, said in the statement. “But too often patients are unclear that they have the right to choose a health care provider to deliver their NHS care – whether an NHS organization or an independent sector one – free at the point of use.”

At the moment, about one in 10 patients exercise their right to choose where they receive care, the health department said.

But NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, warned that improving choice was “not a panacea” for the wider challenges facing the NHS.

“Unless action is taken to address major workforce shortages, it is hard to see how we will staff the diagnostic centers, operating theaters or other health care settings needed to deliver this care,” spokesperson Miriam Deakin said in a statement.

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