The Patients Association has strongly recommended that NHS England reconsider its upcoming plans to restrict the availability of some surgery and other medical interventions.

Patients responding to the Association’s recent survey on the topic expressed little support for the plans, expressing concern about a ‘rolling programme’ to make the changes. It also found relatively little confidence in NHS England’s ability to take decisions of this sort.

The survey results also included testimony from patients who had missed out on treatment because of rationing decisions, and found that in these situations the most common end result is for patients to go without and potentially suffer harm – it is far less common for patients to be able to challenge such decisions successfully.

Some of the comments from patients included:

  • “My husband was denied a hip arthroscopy repair in our local hospital in the South of England for 'political' reasons, we were told, and five years later eventually had the op done in the North East of England, having been in pain and having difficulty in walking throughout the whole time. We did complain but no-one would help us.”
  • “I was told by doctor he would not refer me because if all his patients asked for referral the NHS would run out of money. He was clearly motivated by money rather than patient care.”

Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said: “While it’s right that the NHS spends its money wisely, we are concerned that these proposals will put new barriers between patients and the treatments they need. On paper this shouldn’t be a problem, but in reality we know that there will be mistakes and variation, which will lead to some patients missing out.

“With decisions about different priorities being a major part of the development of the new long-term plan for the NHS, it seems strange to make decisions about these treatments in isolation. We would like to see NHS England look again at these proposals in light of its additional funding and forthcoming ten year plan.”

Key survey findings:

  • 56% of patients were not happy with NHS England’s general approach to restricting access, even when they have reasons for doing so; 29% supported it, 12% did not know
  • 31% of patients believe that none of the reasons offered by NHS England justify restricting access
  • 8% of patients felt very confident in NHS England to take decisions of this sort, 27% somewhat confident, 33% only slightly confident and 28% not at all confident; 4% did not know
  • 66% of patients did not support a rolling programme of restrictions, as proposed by NHS England.

For more information, read this blog post by John Kell, Head of Policy at the Patients Association. 

Our full consultation response to NHS England on evidence based interventions is available here.

October 3 2018