New NHS booking system 'a shambles'

DOCTORS in Essex claim the introduction of a new system letting patients choose where to go for treatment has been a “shambles” - because it is not yet working properly.

DOCTORS in Essex claim the introduction of a new system letting patients choose where to go for treatment has been a “shambles” - because it is not yet working properly.

The NHS launched its new “Choose And Book” scheme across the country this week, giving patients the opportunity to opt for a consultant and hospital of their choice while in their GP surgery.

GPs are supposed to be able to check out treatment and waiting lists in the region online and then electronically refer patients.

However, the computer system is not yet up and running in Essex and many other parts of the country, so primary care trusts and GP practices are having to implement a paper version of the scheme called “Patient Choice”.


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The Essex Strategic Health Authority (SHA) has left it up to each of the county's 13 PCTs to work out the details of how Patient Choice should work, so in theory there could be over 13 different systems in operation.

Dr John Cormack, a GP in the Maldon and south Chelmsford area, said while the computerised system could bring advantages to patients, the paper system was too time consuming for GPs - who could end up seeing half as many patients if they went through all the choices available.

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Also, GPs did not have the knowledge to advise on specialists and waiting lists at hospitals further afield, he said.

“The fact that the computer system is a disaster makes it more difficult,” said Dr Cormack, who described the existing situation as a shambles and ridiculous.

“It's a nice idea, but just a typical NHS mess,” he added.

Yesterday, Andrew Bradshaw, deputy chief executive of the Essex Local Medical Committees, which represents the interests of the county's GPs, said the committee raised 13 concerns about the new system with the SHA.

He said their main worries concerned whether GPs and practice managers would be given detailed information so they know the choices available.

They also fear for patient safety, saying as it is such a complicated scheme referrals could more easily become lost in the system.

Mr Bradshaw said: “I think it would have been better if they'd said: 'The IT's not working, let's postpone the target (starting date) until the IT is working.”

Dr Mark Greenhalgh, programme director for Choose and Book in Essex for the SHA, said: “The Department of Health were very clear we couldn't just sit back and say no we are not doing this now.”

“We had to have a contingency just in case and contingencies are never ideal. I'd like to give lots of credit to staff in the PCTs who worked really hard to pull off something which was going to be difficult to do, to make a realistic go of providing choice.

“In all cases they said they've been able to do it, although not every detail is ideal. They've produced various written materials and information. It's a case of the glass could be half empty or half full.”

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