Patients who have spent at least ten months on the NHS waiting list will be offered treatment hundreds of miles away in a bid to speed up access to care.
Letters, emails and text messages will be sent to around 400,000 patients in England asking if they would be willing to travel for faster treatment.
They will be asked how far they are willing to go (50 miles, 100 miles or nationwide) before being assigned alternative hospitals that can treat them sooner.
Health leaders insist the move will maximize NHS capacity while offering patients more choice and control.
But critics say it is “not a magic bullet” and could exclude those who feel too old or sick to travel.
Campaigners also argue that hundreds of thousands more patients caught on the list should be made aware that they have the right to choose where they receive treatment.
MailOnline’s interactive tool allows you to see the size of the queue at your local hospital and the proportion of patients who have been waiting for 18 weeks or less – the maximum time patients must wait for treatment under NHS rules.
MailOnline app users can view it by clicking here.
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Figures show Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has the highest proportion of patients waiting more than 18 weeks, at 60.6 per cent. Almost six in ten were also waiting at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, which recorded a proportion of 57.5 per cent. Around 55.7 per cent had to wait more than 18 weeks at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, while the figure stood at 52.8 per cent at James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Figures show Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has the highest proportion of patients waiting more than 18 weeks, at 60.6 per cent.
Almost six in ten were also waiting at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, which recorded a proportion of 57.5 per cent.
At the other end of the scale, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust had just two per cent waiting during the deadline, the smallest proportion in the country.
Two other cancer hospitals, Clatterbridge Cancer Center (4.2 per cent) and Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trusts (5.3 per cent), were among the other trusts with the smallest proportion.
Under new NHS guidelines, patients will be actively asked about undergoing treatment at alternative hospitals if they have been waiting more than 40 weeks and do not have an appointment scheduled within the next eight weeks (approximately 5 per cent of those registered 7.75). waiting list of millions.
In February 2020 there were 4.6 million people waiting for treatment, but the number soared when the NHS postponed most routine care to prioritize Covid patients during the pandemic.
The NHS will use a “matching platform” launched earlier this year to link patients with NHS and private sector hospitals outside their area.
If an alternative hospital is not found within two months, the patient will remain with their current provider and maintain their position on the waiting list.
Despite the pressure to target a proportion of patients in the queue, everyone has the right to choose where they will be referred for a first outpatient appointment.
Under the same rules, patients can also switch to another hospital carrying out NHS procedures with a shorter waiting list if they have been waiting more than 18 weeks.
But a survey last year suggested that only half of NHS patients are aware that they have the right to choose or change where they receive treatment.
It is not clear exactly why the NHS has not done a better job of informing patients about this right.
Although it could be because healthcare professionals are not aware that patients have a choice, it is considered more administrative for NHS staff or that staff do not have enough time to discuss options with patients, according to the Patients’ Association.
And, if everyone currently waiting for treatment switched to a hospital with a shorter wait list, it would simply create a longer wait list at a different hospital, he said.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said: ‘This new step to offer NHS patients who have been waiting longer the opportunity to consider traveling for treatment is just another example of how we are introducing new approaches to reduce patient waiting times, while also improving the choices and control they have over their own care.
“Therefore, whether a patient’s care is moved to the next city or somewhere further afield, 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.’
The growing backlog in England reached 7.75 million in August, the equivalent of one in seven people. This includes nearly 400,000 people trapped in the system for more than a year, often suffering
Patients who have spent at least ten months on the NHS waiting list will be offered treatment hundreds of miles away.
Patients will be contacted directly by their NHS trust or an independent sector provider.
Health officials said there will be some funding and support available to help those who have difficulty traveling, such as taxis or hotels for the elderly or disabled. However, hospitals will decide who can access these payments on a case-by-case basis.
Louise Ansari, chief executive of Health Watch England, which represents patients, 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 NHS support for transport and accommodation costs, this solution will only help those who can afford to travel for faster care.
“There are currently record numbers of people stuck on NHS waiting lists, and our research has repeatedly highlighted the impact that long waits have on patients, particularly people from groups facing health inequalities, including people with lower income.
“People have also told us that they would welcome the opportunity to travel to receive care more quickly, as long as the additional costs incurred were covered.”
However, the NHS admitted that a number of patients will not qualify if their clinical condition is too complex, making travel inappropriate.
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: “Adjusting demand to places with capacity is sensible and will be beneficial for those patients who are able and willing to travel.”
“But health leaders will be aware that this plan will not work for everyone, as some patients will not feel able or comfortable to travel far for their treatment, and others with minor health problems may prefer to wait for an appointment to receive treatment”. available at your local healthcare provider.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Giving patients who can have the opportunity to go elsewhere for treatment is not a panacea for tackling the causes of record numbers of people on NHS waiting lists. NHS, something experts predict could rise to more than eight million next summer.
“Long waiting times are a symptom of years of severe workforce shortages and underinvestment in the NHS.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Empowering people to choose where and when they receive their treatment will help tackle waiting lists and improve access to NHS care.