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Patient safety
Safe treatment or a shorter wait: Hobson’s choice?
  1. Angela Coulter
  1. Department of General Practice and Health Services Research, Medical Hospital and Polyclinic, University of Heidelberg, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany;

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    The British government hopes that the Patient Choice scheme recently introduced by the NHS will lead to improvements in waiting times and quality.

    When Henry Ford offered customers of his Model T car a choice of “any colour so long as it is black” there was no need for sophisticated techniques to check out their preferences. Until very recently options for patients in the British NHS were just as restricted as Ford’s colour range. Hobson’s choice was what was on offer—that is, no choice at all, you get what you’re given. The situation is about to change dramatically following the government’s recent launch of the Patient Choice scheme.1 Patients who have been on the waiting list for elective surgery for a specified period (initially 6 months) will be offered a choice of staying on the list until an operation slot becomes available at their “home” hospital or being treated faster elsewhere—in another NHS hospital, a private hospital, or even abroad. Those people considering such a choice will need to trade off the certainty of an earlier operation date, …

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