- Critics say the move could exclude those who feel too old or ill to travel
Patients who have spent at least ten months on the NHS waiting list will be offered treatment hundreds of miles away.
Letters, emails and text messages will be sent to around 400,000 patients asking if they would be willing to travel for faster care.
They will be asked how far they are willing to go – 50 miles, 100 miles or nationally – before being matched to alternative hospitals that can see them sooner. Health leaders say the move will maximise the capacity of the NHS while giving patients more choice and control.
But critics say it is ‘not a magic bullet’ and could exclude those who feel too old or ill to travel.
Patients will be eligible if they have been waiting longer than 40 weeks and do not have an appointment scheduled within the next eight weeks – an estimated 5 per cent of those on the record 7.75 million waiting list.
Patients who have spent at least ten months on the NHS waiting list will be offered treatment hundreds of miles away (File image)
The NHS will use a ‘matching platform’ launched earlier this year to link patients to NHS and private sector hospitals outside their area. If no alternative hospital is found within two months, the patient will remain with their current provider and keep their position on the waiting list.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said it demonstrated ‘the clear benefits of a single national health service, with staff able to share capacity right across the country’.
She added: ‘This new step to offer NHS patients who have been waiting the longest the opportunity to consider travelling for treatment is just another example of how we are introducing new approaches to reduce how long patients wait, while improving the choice and control they have over their own care.
‘So, whether a patient’s care moves to the next town or somewhere farther away, it is absolutely right that we make the most of available capacity across the country to continue to reduce the backlogs that have inevitably built up due to the pandemic and provide the best possible service.’
Critics say it is ‘not a magic bullet’ and could exclude those who feel too old or ill to travel (File image)
The latest data shows that around 397,000 patients have been waiting more than a year for treatment, with almost 9,000 at over 18 months.Patients will be contacted directly by their NHS trust or independent sector provider and should not contact their GP practice or hospital.
Funding and support will be available to help those who may struggle to travel, such as taxis or hotels for the elderly or disabled. However, the NHS admitted a number of patients will not qualify if their clinical condition is too complex, making it inappropriate to travel.
Rory Deighton of the NHS Confederation, which represents health service employers, said the move would ease pressure on some of the most strained parts of the system.
He added: ‘Matching demand to places with capacity is sensible and will be beneficial to those patients who are able and willing to travel.
‘But health leaders will be mindful that this scheme will not work for everyone as some patients will not feel able or comfortable to travel very far for their treatment, and others with more minor health complaints in fact may prefer to wait for an appointment to become available at their local healthcare provider.’
Health Secretary Steve Barclay declared: ‘Empowering people to choose where and when they receive their treatment will help tackle waiting lists and improve access to NHS care.’