The truth about patient choice

While NHS England have committed to ensuring that by 2020 all patients are aware of the choices available to them when choosing their NHS treatment, just 48% of the public are currently aware of these legal rights.

This is despite the fact that the legal right to patient choice has been in place for over a decade.

Patients have the right to choose to be treated at a public or independent hospital in England with hospitals paid the same for the procedure. Earlier this week the NHS’s director of personalised care James Sanderson told the HSJ that choice of provider remains fundamental and must be defended.

Plotting patient choice

NHS waiting times having risen to their highest in a decade. However, patient choice has been a key feature of both the NHS Five Year Forward View and the recent NHS Long Term Plan.

The poll was undertaken by Populus on behalf of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, which represents independent sector healthcare organisations, who are calling for the Government to take urgent action to dramatically improve public awareness of patient choice and ensure that patients are supported to make the best treatment decisions for them.

David Hare, Chief Executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network said:

“When NHS waiting times are at their highest in a decade, it is disappointing that patients’ awareness of their legal right to choose the fastest possible treatment for them has barely changed in four years. Despite strong commitments from both the Government and the NHS to strengthen the public’s choice rights, today’s poll shows that we are still a long way off all patients being able to make the most informed decisions about their care.

“Making patients aware of their right to choose is not just the right thing to do but leads to tangible improvements in patient outcomes. We therefore want to see a renewed push to kickstart the patient power agenda so that all patients can receive the fastest possible access to treatment in the setting of their choice.”

Exploring the wider healthcare landscape

Last year Populus research showed that 45% said they believed the NHS will ‘continue to provide a comprehensive service, free at the point of care, in 10 years’ time’. A Populus whitepaper published earlier in 2018 exploring consumer attitudes to healthcare revealed that despite the monumental rise in digital health resources, consumer journeys from ailment to recovery have tended to remain largely non-digital in terms of pre-purchase behaviour.


Populus interviewed 6,116 adults online in England, across four waves of omnibus (25th January-12th February).  This included 2,314 interviews with respondents who have been referred for an outpatient appointment by their GP within the last 12 months.

Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For more details go to