New health booking system blasted

IT'S not wanted and it's not working.That is the verdict today on the controversial Choose and Book system which has cost more than half a million pounds this year in Suffolk - despite less than quarter of patients using it.

IT'S not wanted and it's not working.

That is the verdict today on the controversial Choose and Book system which has cost more than half a million pounds this year in Suffolk - despite less than quarter of patients using it.

As new figures reveal Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) is failing to offer patients the choice they are entitled to, senior health figures have blasted the system as irrelevant for people in the county.

Choose and Book is designed to give patients a choice of when and where they are treated at hospital or a clinic.

But Anne Nicholls, chairwoman of the Patient and Public Involvement Forum for Suffolk PCT, the group which represents patients' interests in Suffolk, said: “Money has been poured into this and some people feel it could have been spent with much better effect by being put into other projects.

“Most patients in Ipswich want to go to Ipswich Hospital, they actually don't want the choice of going to Peterborough too.

Most Read

“The process is extremely time-consuming which eats into the patients' consultation time.”

Bill Robinson, chief executive of Suffolk's Local Medical Committee, a group which represents GPs in the county, added that many doctors were sceptical about the supposed benefits of the Choose and Book system as well as frustrated by the problems with its implementation.

Mr Robinson said: “Suffolk is pretty well down there when it comes to choice. The latest figures I saw showed that Suffolk was 178th out of 184 PCTs in the take-up.

“The views I hear are that the system doesn't work. GPs say they try to do it and they can't get into the system so they've got a patient waiting.

“They also say that patients don't always want choice, they just want to go to Ipswich Hospital.

“It is another example of systems being put into place because people look at how it will work in London, where there is lots of choice of hospitals.”

Have you used Choose and Book? Did you find it helpful or a waste of valuable time with your GP? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail

PCT's view

SUFFOLK Primary Care Trust admitted it was letting down patients as a result of its poor implementation of Choose and Book.

It added the budget for the scheme in 2007/8 was £576,072, but that the actual spend would not be known until after June 2008.

Dave Rowson, the PCT's director of communications, said: “It is not fair to patients that we are failing in this.

“We are working hard to make the changes to improve. These changes have had to be gradual to make sure that they meet patients' needs. Working in close partnership with the GPs and hospitals, we are seeing improvements.

“Part of the problem has been out-of-date computers and systems, which were not sophisticated enough to link with the hospitals' systems.

“We have been working out how many computers need replacing at each of the 69 GP surgeries and putting in new equipment.

“Hospital clinics for each speciality are being brought on to the Choose and Book system one by one, so we can iron out any problems and patients are best served.

“We are looking forward to April when the Choose and Book system will be opened up to enable Suffolk patients to choose to have their appointments at any hospital in the country.”

The figures

Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) is languishing in the bottom of country-wide league-tables of take-up of Choose and Book.

In September the NHS conducted a national survey of patient choice which showed that only 25per cent of people in Suffolk had been offered a choice at their GP surgery, compared with a national average of 45pc.

The figures mean Suffolk was the worst performing PCT in the East of England for choice and one of the worst nationally.

The PCT's own more recent figures show that in December only 24pc of all first outpatient hospital appointments to see a consultant were booked through Choose and Book in Suffolk.

Choose and Book

Choose and Book is an e-booking software application which is being introduced to the National Health Service (NHS) in England.

The system lets patients choose from at least four hospital where they can be treated, and choose the date and time of their appointment.

Since summer 2004 Choose and Book has been introduced across England and by January 2006 it was available to all patients.

In 2007 the first independent sector hospitals entered the Choose and Book arena, making their services directly bookable to GPs whose PCT had commissioned their services.

From April 2008 patients will be able to be referred to any hospital in the country - NHS or independent sector - which provides NHS standard care.