Magazine article Public Finance

Heart of the Matter

Magazine article Public Finance

Heart of the Matter

Article excerpt

It was a very English revolution. The radical introduction this week of 'Patient Choice' - a core component of New Labour's public services reform programme - seems to have passed the public by.

Apparently four out of five people had no idea that patients are now entitled to choose from four hospitals, often including those in the private sector, when they need non-emergency treatment. Awareness will inevitably grow as more people take up the offer. Over time, Patient Choice will transform the structure of health provision, it will mean greater use of market-based mechanisms and, inevitably, of private providers. There is much to welcome in the extension of choice. For too long, patients have had to accept what is provided, when it is given. That balance of power is about to change.

But pseudo-markets in the public sector need to be handled with care, or the end result could be less choice, not more. That's certainly the situation in Oxfordshire, where more than 50 patients with irregular heartbeats have been removed from the waiting list.

Oxford Radcliffe Trust argues that it is uneconomic for it to perform a simple cardiac procedure, as the fee under the payment by results funding system is too low. …

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