Uptake of the government’s flagship Choose and Book hospital appointment booking system is still less than half the target level.
The disappointing figures were revealed as NHS Connecting for Health appointed a new medical director for the service.
Dr Stephen Miller will take up the post aimed at increasing the use of Choose and Book, replacing Dr Mark Davies, who will now move to a broader role, leading on clinical content for Connecting for Health, which runs the £12.4bn NHS National Programme for IT.
The announcement of his appointment comes as Connecting for Health released new figures showing Choose and Book was being used for “nearly 40%” of GP referrals to outpatient departments – a slight improvement on April’s figure of just 37% but far short of the Department of Health’s 90% target.
Choose and Book has also suffered poor reviews from users. A survey by specialist medical polling organisation Medix in November found that among GPs who used the system regularly, 90% said it increased the time taken to refer a patient to hospital while 70% said it was either detrimental to patient care or made no difference.
Last month, criticism of the system moved up a gear as the British Medical Association’s annual conference passed a resolution warning that Choose and Book was “unfit for purpose” and “actually limits patient choice” – the key government policy it was designed to implement.
The BMA is now set to launch an investigation into the impact of Choose and Book on referral patterns – a crucial question because hospital funding now depends on the number of operations and treatments carried out.
Miller, a GP for 12 years, chairs the Choose and Book national clinical reference panel – set up to increase engagement with doctors and help ensure the system reflects clinical needs.
“I believe that there is a great and exciting future for Choose and Book in helping to integrate and deliver many of the new IT-based solutions for improved health care in the NHS. As a working GP, I see the benefits of Choose and Book on a daily basis, both for me and for my patients,” Miller said.
He added: “Choose and Book works very well for a lot of people a lot of the time – this includes GPs, consultants and patients. I am keen to listen to those who are using the system and especially those who are not and to working with the national team, to help make Choose and Book work well for everyone – all of the time.”
In April, the government launched a pilot scheme in 10 local areas, allowing NHS patients to select and book outpatient appointments directly using their own PCs or those in local libraries.