Patients don't use quality measures when choosing a hospital says The King's Fund

Three years after patients were first entitled to choose where to go for an outpatient appointment, the results of a survey by The King's Fund reveal that half (49 per cent) recall being offered a choice of hospital or treatment centre. And rather than consulting official information sources such as NHS Choices, most patients rely on their own past experience (56 per cent), the experience of family or friends (52 per cent) or the advice of their GP (13 per cent) to judge a hospitals' performance.

The survey of patients, Choice at the point of referral: Early results of a patient survey was based on four case study areas across England.

Among those patients who say they were given a choice of hospital:

  • 60 per cent were satisfied with the amount of information they were provided with, 22 per cent did not want any information and 14 per cent would have liked more.
  • 4 per cent said they had looked at the NHS Choices website when choosing a hospital (65 per cent had internet access).

Cleanliness, quality of care and the standard of facilities available were the three most important factors that influenced patients' choice of hospitals. Travel costs and car parking were only seen as 'somewhat important'.

Dr Anna Dixon, report co-author and Director of Policy at The King's Fund commented:

'This survey shows there is still some way to go before choice is fully embedded in the NHS. Patients recognise that the quality of care is an important factor when deciding which hospital to attend. However, currently they are not actively comparing hospitals or using performance data to select the highest quality provider, instead they continue to rely on their own experience or the advice of their GP.

'There is a wealth of information available for patients and GPs in official reports and on government websites. If policy makers want patient choice to drive up quality more needs to be done to let patients know this information is available and make the data relevant, accessible and easy to use.'

Read the survey results: Choice at the point of referral: Early results of a patient survey

Notes to editors: 

  1. A postal questionnaire was sent to NHS patients who booked an outpatient appointment in January 2009 at eight NHS trusts, three foundation trusts and two ISTCs across four case study areas of England. A total of 5,997 questionnaires were sent out between March and June 2009 with a 36 per cent response rate (total number of responses n= 2,181).
  2. This survey of the patients’ perspective on choice at the point of referral is part of a larger research project funded by the Department of Health and conducted by The King’s Fund in partnership with Picker Institute Europe, RAND Europe and the Office of Health Economics. The project will also explore GP and hospital perspectives of choice and allow a more thorough examination of patient choice and its impact on quality. The final report will be published in early 2010.
  3. Choice at the point of referral: Early results of a patient survey will be available for download free from The King’s Fund’s website from Wednesday 4 November.
  4. For further information or interviews, please contact The King’s Fund press and public affairs office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2603. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
  5. The King’s Fund is a charity that seeks to understand how the health system in England can be improved. Using that insight, we help to shape policy, transform services and bring about behaviour change. Our work includes research, analysis, leadership development and service improvement. We also offer a wide range of resources to help everyone working in health to share knowledge, learning and ideas.