The Covid pandemic has exposed many shortcomings in the NHS even as we have been invited to applaud the people who work within it. The impact of lockdowns on other aspects of public health are now well attested, with lengthy backlogs in operations, missed diagnoses and overwhelmed A&E departments. Massive extra sums are being poured into the system without any provision being made to reform the way that it works other than at the margins.
The physical closure of many GP surgeries has led to questions over the future of primary care as the way into the rest of the NHS. Getting past these gatekeepers is proving ever more difficult. Indeed, one of their functions is to act as a triaging mechanism to stop hospitals being overwhelmed with patients who don’t need to be there.
As part of an effort to restore public confidence in the system it is now proposed that patients should be able to book their own hospital appointments once referred by their GPs. The move is described as a “gamechanger” under which those on waiting lists can contact the hospital directly and arrange to be seen by a specialist or access tests.
This sounds like a good idea and an example of the sort of innovation the NHS desperately needs. The frustration felt by people at their inability to easily access basic care and advice is evident in the letters page of this newspaper on a regular basis. Health officials say a national scheme along these lines would “give the power back to the patient” though that would only be true if getting an appointment is made easier than it currently is to see a GP. This is a welcome start but much more needs to be done if the game really is to change.