Today, NHS England announced that hundreds of thousands of NHS patients waiting longer than 40 weeks treatment will be offered the opportunity to travel to a different hospital, if it means they could be seen sooner.
Responding to the announcement, 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.
"Record numbers of people are currently stuck on NHS waiting lists, and our research has repeatedly highlighted the impact long waits have on patients, particularly people from groups facing health inequalities, including people on lower incomes.
"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 have called for support to improve people's experiences of waiting for NHS treatment, such as improving communications between patients and their care teams and offering support to people while they wait, including support or signposting to help for their mental health.
"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”.