Doctors say patient choice is unrealistic

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Britain's doctors are set to challenge the Government's drive to increase patient choice in the NHS on the grounds that the policy is unworkable and will waste resources.

Britain's doctors are set to challenge the Government's drive to increase patient choice in the NHS on the grounds that the policy is unworkable and will waste resources.

In motions set down for debate at the British Medical Association's (BMA) annual conference in Llandudno, Conwy, this week, representatives of the profession say that offering patients a choice of more than two hospitals is unrealistic and will impose an administrative burden on GPs.

They also accuse ministers of encouraging the "creeping privatisation of health care".

If the motions are passed by the conference, which represents Britain's 120,000 doctors, it will represent a serious rebuff for ministers who have put expanding patient choice at the centre of their plans for modernising the NHS.

James Johnson, the chairman of the BMA, said that it was the association's duty to expose the problems with patient choice. "One thing choice needs is capacity. There is no point Egon Ronay producing a guide to restaurants if all the tables are fully booked," he said.

Ministers have already declared that patients are to be offered a choice of four or five hospitals at the point of GP referral from the end of next year. Last Wednesday, John Reid, the Health Secretary, went further by announcing that choice will be extended to any hospital, public or private, that can meet NHS standards and provide treatment at the NHS price by 2008.

However, some BMA representatives believe that the policy is a stalking-horse for the privatisation of the NHS, arguing that patient choice "is being used by John Reid to hide the Government's introduction of multiple private providers into health care".

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