Government health care plans have given GPs more choice

Ben Southwood
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HEALTHCARE reform has succeeded in widening the range of healthcare providers chosen by GPs, a study revealed this morning.

Government reforms intended to boost choice and competition within the NHS have resulted in GPs choosing the independent sector for 3.5 per cent of all first appointments, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said, going up to nearly a fifth for some treatments.

Independent providers performed some 17 per cent of elective hernia operations in 2010-11, while the fraction going to their nearest NHS trust for a hip replacement plunged from 68 per cent in 2005-6 to 54 per cent in 2010-11. But this trend was not seen in emergency care – where only NHS trusts provide services, and where proximity is crucial.

“The use of private providers to treat NHS patients is no longer a marginal policy reform,” said IFS researcher Elaine Kelly. “There has been a significant shift in market shares over the past five years from patients’ nearest NGS hospitals to private providers.”

“However, despite these relative shifts, increases in the number of NHS-funded treatments over the last five years have been so substantial that the total number of patients treated at NHS hospitals has not declined.”

Anita Charlesworth, chief economist at the Nuffield trust, who commissioned the study, suggested that the data gave some vindication to government efforts to introduce choice in the health market, but warned that the overall spending boom was masking the market signals to trust-run treatment centres.

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