Those waiting longest for NHS care to be asked if they will travel for treatment

Patients waiting for 40 weeks or more are to be given the chance to travel for care (Jeff Moore/PA)
Patients waiting for 40 weeks or more are to be given the chance to travel for care (Jeff Moore/PA)

Hundreds of thousands of patients who have been waiting for 10 months or more for NHS care are to be given the chance to travel to another hospital to speed up their treatment time, officials have said.

Earlier this year NHS England announced plans to give people the opportunity to travel for treatment in a bid to bring down the record backlog of care in the health service.

Now around 400,000 patients who have been waiting longer than 40 weeks are to be contacted to see whether they would be willing to travel to another hospital in England to expedite their care.

Patient will receive a letter, text or email asking whether they would be willing to travel, and if so how far.

Some may say they would travel the length and breadth of the country while others can opt for shorter trips, should they wish.

NHS teams can then identify whether any alternative hospitals have capacity to see them sooner.

This could involve the use of the NHS’s “matching platform”, which was launched earlier this year to match patients with providers outside their local area.

The platform was designed to make the most of available capacity across the country – be it in other NHS hospitals or in the private sector – to speed up waits

(PA Graphics)

Patients will be eligible only if they have been waiting longer than 40 weeks and do not have an appointment scheduled within the next eight weeks.

If no alternative hospital is found within two months of starting the process, the patient will remain with their current provider and keep their position on the waiting list.

Officials estimate that 5% of people on the NHS waiting list will be eligible for the offer.

A record 7.75 million people in England are waiting to start routine hospital treatment – the highest number since records began in 2007.

The NHS has previously said there is local funding and support in place to enable people who may struggle to travel – which could include elderly or disabled people – to benefit from the scheme. This could include provision of taxis or hotels.

NHS apprentices
NHS boss Amanda Pritchard said the service should make the most of available capacity across the country (Scott Heppell/PA)

A number of patients will not be eligible if their clinical condition is too complex, making it inappropriate to travel, NHS England said.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said: “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.

“Giving this extra option to these patients also demonstrates the clear benefits of a single national health service, with staff able to share capacity right across the country.

“So, whether a patient’s care moves to the next town or somewhere further 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 for patients.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay added: “Empowering people to choose where and when they receive their treatment will help tackle waiting lists and improve access to NHS care.

“From today, those waiting 40 weeks or more will be given more options to speed up treatment, including at hospitals with shorter waiting times or using capacity within the independent sector.

“This is the next step in our plan build a health service around patients and follows on from the roll-out of community diagnostic centres, surgical hubs and virtual wards to unlock capacity in the NHS.”

Louise Ansari , chief executive of Healthwatch England, said: “Many patients facing long waits for care will welcome the news that they can now choose to travel for treatment if it means they will be seen sooner.

“However, without support from the NHS with transport and accommodation costs, this solution will only help those who can afford to travel for faster care.

“People have also told us that they would welcome the opportunity to travel to receive care more quickly, as long as any additional costs incurred would be covered.

“We’re now calling on NHS England and integrated care boards to work together to ensure everyone choosing to travel for faster treatment is given support, including with the costs of transport and accommodation – as described in the Elective Recovery Plan.

“Otherwise, this option risks deepening health inequalities by only providing solutions to people who can afford to contribute towards the additional costs of travel.”