Patient will get right to choose hospital, pledges Milburn

A pioneering scheme that lets NHS patients choose where to have their operation if they have been waiting more than six months was extended by the Government yesterday.

Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, announced at the conference that the initiative, which applies to some heart patients, would now be used for those waiting for cataract operations in London.

In July, the Department of Health announced that 2,000 heart patients across the country who were waiting six months or more for an operation at their local hospital could opt for treatment elsewhere in the NHS or in the private sector. So far, 400 patients have been treated under this Heart Choice scheme.

The new pilot will mean cataract patients in the capital who have been waiting at least six months can also choose to go elsewhere. By next spring the idea will be extended to also include people in London waiting for orthopaedic operations, ear, nose and throat treatment, general surgery and other specialities.

"If we want a health service which puts patients first then patients have got to have more power. And that means they've got to have some choice," Mr Milburn said. "So if their local NHS hospital cannot offer them a shorter waiting time but another hospital can, they can decide to choose."

Dr Liam Fox, the shadow Health Secretary, dismissed the extension as a gimmick. "This shows how little importance Labour really attaches to choice. It is a pathetic extension to a system which begins from a very low base. Patients are given a choice only if the system has already failed them. Alan Milburn's centralised system of healthcare is completely insensitive to the needs and wishes of patients,'' he said.

Mr Milburn also announced an extra £10m will be given to areas of England with the highest levels of coronary heart disease. In addition, the Government has published a document introducing a new three-year planning system for the NHS and social services to replace the current annual system. Each local area will now submit a single three-year plan. The document – Investment, Expansion and Reform – also included a commitment to avoid the introduction of new national targets where possible.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair was under pressure last night to resolve the growing cabinet feud between the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and Mr Milburn over the future of foundation hospitals. With both sides refusing to back off, the Prime Minister was expected to step into the dispute, which centres on the issue of whether high-performing hospitals should be allowed to borrow free of Treasury control.

Alarm has grown among the duo's cabinet colleagues that the stand-off between them is threatening to distract attention from government attempts to focus attention on its health-service reforms. They now expect Mr Blair to risk a row with the Chancellor by intervening. One senior source said: "Don't forget that the Prime Minister is First Lord of the Treasury."

During a session with delegates, Mr Milburn placed heavy emphasis on offering greater choice to patients in the National Health Service. He said: "Rather than the hospitals choosing the patients, we've got to have patients choosing the hospitals." Mr Milburn admitted this amounted to a big change, but added: "In the end, if we are going to have a health service that puts patients first, patients are going to have to have more power and more choice."

Bemoaning the widening of health inequalities over the past 50 years, he said: "Too often the poorest services are in the poorest communities. Patients have little say and precious little choice."

He dismissed charges that the pace of change in the NHS was undermining the quality of the service. "I don't think too much reform is the problem, but whether we are prepared to reform enough," he said.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus all the build-up to Man City vs Chelsea and Everton vs Palace
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Polly Borgen at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012
peopleThe Emmy award-winner starred in Cape Fear, the Sopranos and Desperate House Wives
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teaching Assistant required in ...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam