Patients will soon be able to use the NHS app to opt for private hospital treatment in a bid to cut waiting times.
It is understood that patients will be encouraged to use the app to select dozens of private diagnostic centres offering checks for cancer and other health conditions to help speed up treatment and free up the NHS, according to The Times.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak believes offering more choice for patients on their local hospital’s performance will increase standards across the board, the report says. Sunak is expected to promote patient choice over the coming weeks and make it the default for those who are referred for routine care.
The government says that encouraging patients to use the NHS app will give them “greater control” over treatment, as well as helping to reduce wait times.
A statement from the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Cutting waiting lists is one of the government’s top five priorities with the NHS app playing a vital role in giving patients greater control over their own care and supporting elective care recovery.
“We have already started to implement the Elective Recovery Taskforce’s work and a full plan will be published soon, outlining how we can go even further to unlock the independent sector to get patients treated more quickly and reduce waiting lists.”
The independent sector use of the NHS is up to 143% of pre-pandemic levels, but the department says it has cut 18-month waits by 91% and two-year waits have been “virtually eliminated”.
It comes after the government missed a key target of eliminating 18-month waits for planned NHS care such as knee and hip replacements, according official figures released earlier this month. Data from NHS England shows 10,737 people were waiting more than 18 months to start routine treatment at the end of March - down from 29,778 at the end of February.
The government and NHS England set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than 18 months by April of this year, excluding exceptionally complex cases or patients who choose to wait longer. But data shows this target has been missed, with 41% of the 10,737 cases falling into the category of people choosing to wait or exceptionally complex cases, meaning 59% of the cases are routine waits. Almost half of those waiting are believed to be concentrated in 10 NHS trusts.
In January, Sunak pledged that NHS waiting lists will fall and people would get the care they need more quickly, but the latest figures released show that the number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has risen to a record high. At the end of March, an estimated 7.3 million people were waiting to start treatment - up from 7.2 million in February.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is due to outline his plan to improve the NHS in a speech on Monday (22 May). He is set to address the record number of patients on waiting lists in a bid to put pressure on Sunak to provide a timeline to improve NHS standards.
He will argue that a Labour government “will deliver an NHS that is there when you need it” and will pledge: “No backsliding, no excuses. We will meet these standards again. We will get the NHS back on its feet.”
By reforming the NHS and training the staff it needs, the party will promise to hit NHS targets within five years in order to:
- ensure ambulances get to people in time to save lives
- get people seen by a GP when they need to
- stop people facing dangerously long waits in A&E
- guarantee shorter waits for hospital appointments when people need specialist care
Starmer will say: “We have a plan. We will fight for the NHS. We will fix the NHS. We will reform the NHS. Old values, new opportunities. Technology and science, convenience and control, renewal not decline. An NHS, not just off its knees but running confidently towards the future.”