Health & Lifestyle

Tinder for the NHS! Health chiefs will match patients with hospitals with shorter waits further from home in bid to clear record Covid backlogs

The NHS will help match patients with hospitals with shorter waits further from home in a bid to slash waiting lists and speed up access to care.

Patients will be given a profile detailing their symptoms or treatment needs and how far they are prepared to travel for a diagnosis or procedure.

These can then be reviewed by managers and medics at 650 private and NHS providers around the country who can take over their care if they have spare capacity.

Patients will given the opportunity to travel to the alternative hospital for their appointment, with the NHS covering the cost if it is provided by a private firm.

Some consultations may even be performed remotely by doctors hundreds of miles away from the patient.

Patients will be given a profile detailing their symptoms or treatment needs and how far they are prepared to travel for a diagnosis or procedure. These can then be reviewed by managers and medics at 650 private and NHS providers around the country who can take over their care if they have spare capacity

Patients will be given a profile detailing their symptoms or treatment needs and how far they are prepared to travel for a diagnosis or procedure. These can then be reviewed by managers and medics at 650 private and NHS providers around the country who can take over their care if they have spare capacity 

More than 7.47million patients in England - equal to one in eight people - were waiting for routine operations by the end of May - up by 56,700 in just one month

More than 7.47million patients in England – equal to one in eight people – were waiting for routine operations by the end of May – up by 56,700 in just one month

It comes as waiting lists stand at a record 7.5million, with more than 835,000 appointments and operations cancelled as result of strikes by the likes of doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.

The online matching platform was initially introduced for patients needing a hospital admission but is being expanded to include cancer, diagnostic checks, and outpatient appointments.

Since its launch in January, more than 1,700 offers of support have been made with thousands of patients set to benefit as the platform grows.

The system is mainly used for patients who have been waiting the longest, with health chiefs calling it a ‘key tool’ as part of the NHS’ ongoing ambitions to bring down the covid backlogs that built up during the pandemic.

But there no requirement for patients to have been waiting over a certain length of time before being added to the site.

Patient information is included to help organisations decide whether they can pick up the case including how far the patient is willing to travel, the severity of the illness, their BMI, and how long they have been waiting for care.

If more than one provider offers treatment, the options are put to the patient who can then choose based on factors including how far they would have to travel.

Gynaecology, colorectal and trauma and orthopaedics are the top three specialties to have benefited from this digital mutual aid so far, but hundreds of different treatments or appointments can be uploaded.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said: ‘Despite significant pressure on services, NHS staff have already made incredible progress against our elective recovery plan, and this smart new tool will help us to continue to reduce long waits for patients.

‘It shows, once again, the benefits of having a national health service – NHS staff can now work even more closely with other hospitals across the country to identify capacity and conveniently match patients to available treatment and appointment slots.

‘Technology is already transforming the way we work in the NHS and we will continue to embrace the latest innovations, like this one, to deliver the best possible for care for patients.’

Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘We’re already giving patients greater choice over where they are treated and this will go even further by matching patients up to services based on their clinical needs and personal preferences.

‘This will help us to deliver thousands more diagnostic checks for major conditions and offer people treatment sooner – often without the need to go to hospital.

‘We are using all tools at our disposal to bring down waiting lists – one of the government’s top five priorities – while this platform will also help us to drive better collaboration across the NHS and the independent sector to treat patients more quickly.’

Research conducted last year by the Patients Association and the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, which represents independent providers, found almost three quarters of patients (73 per cent) said they would be happy to travel more than 30 minutes to get treatment more quickly.

In May, fewer than six in 10 cancer patients (58.7 per cent) were seen within two months of an urgent GP referral to their first treatment. The NHS target states the figure should be 85 per cent

In May, fewer than six in 10 cancer patients (58.7 per cent) were seen within two months of an urgent GP referral to their first treatment. The NHS target states the figure should be 85 per cent

More than 700,000 NHS appointments have been cancelled since strikes began seven months ago. In the latest five-day walkout by junior doctors, more than 100,000 were called off

More than 700,000 NHS appointments have been cancelled since strikes began seven months ago. In the latest five-day walkout by junior doctors, more than 100,000 were called off

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘We welcome the expansion of the hospital matching platform and think it will make it even easier for patients and the healthcare professional to make a decision together about where to have treatment or a test.

‘Patient choice has been a right for over decade but not all patients are aware they have the right, and it isn’t always offered to them.

‘Hopefully, making it easy for health professionals to easily see the choices of where patients can be treated will increase the number of patients who can take advantage of mutual aid within the NHS.

‘We’re very supportive of mutual aid. We’ve worked with the Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) programme on a mutual aid programme in the East of England that gave patients the option to have surgery at a hospital other than their local one.

‘We know patients welcomed getting surgery earlier and together with them and GIRFT we’ve created information for other patients about the benefits of elective surgical hubs.’

David Furness, director of policy and delivery at the IHPN, said: ‘The hospital matching platform is a good example of the way that the NHS and independent sector can work together effectively for the benefit of patients to reduce waiting times and get them seen more quickly.’

Rory Deighton, director of NHS Confederation’s Acute Network, said: ‘This is a sensible, innovative initiative that could see longer term benefits for the NHS and will be good for patients, potentially speeding up care for those willing and able to travel.

‘However, some patients may be unable to travel as far and will prefer to wait slightly longer in order to attend their local hospital.

‘But in the current environment it is important that we explore every opportunity we can, and this will help better match demand with very limited capacity, prioritising those patients who have been waiting the longest.’

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