Stuck on a hospital waiting list? Travelling further might get you seen quicker

A new NHS tool could help cut waiting lists as patients can travel to a different hospital for treatment.

If you’re on the waiting list for non-urgent treatment in England, a new NHS tool could speed things up – and help you to choose a hospital that suits you.

A new online platform will “match” patients to the best place for them, so if you’re able to travel, you can choose a hospital where waiting times for appointments are shorter.

With more than 7.5 million people now on the waiting list for NHS treatment, it’s hoped the new online platform will speed up care. The maximum waiting time for non-urgent referrals should be 18 weeks, but recent figures show that three million people are still waiting for their appointment.

Suspected cancer cases should be “fast-tracked” so that patients are seen within two weeks.

Hospital waiting roomCredit: Shutterstock / DC Studio

The new system is designed to make decisions easy for patients, building on their legal right to choose the hospital or service they’d like. That could be because of shorter waiting times, but might be due to other factors such as convenience, ease of travel or being closer to family and friends who can help them recover from an operation or treatment.

It doesn’t cover emergency care, but departments including gynaecology and orthopaedics have already benefited from the scheme.


How can I choose the best hospital for me?

If your GP is referring you for non-urgent hospital care, they’ll make sure you’re aware that you can choose the location that’s right for you. This could include private hospitals, but your treatment will still be free on the NHS.

Many factors can affect your choice, and getting an appointment more quickly is just one of them. You might want to choose a hospital near your family or a friend who can help you to recover from an operation – for example, if you’re having surgery on your hip or knee and need some support getting around.

If you’re worried about the quality of your treatment, you can also do your own research and read other patients’ reviews of the hospitals on your shortlist. Go to My Planned Care to search all the hospitals in England and find out about their specialties, as well as waiting times, so you can choose the consultant-led team that’s right for you.

Your GP surgery can provide you with a shortlist of options that they think are most suitable and you can let them know your preferences. They’ll use the new platform to match you with the most suitable treatment.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “This smart new tool will help us to continue to reduce long waits for patients.

“It shows, once again, the benefits of having a national health service – NHS staff can now work even more closely with other hospitals across the country to identify capacity and conveniently match patients to available treatment and appointment slots.

“Technology is already transforming the way we work in the NHS and we will continue to embrace the latest innovations, like this one, to deliver the best possible care for patients.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told Saga Exceptional: “This new platform won’t be the solution for everyone, unfortunately. We know that many older people will be unable to take advantage of this scheme, either because it’s impossible for them to travel or because it will take them beyond the reach of family and friends, who often provide vital practical and morale-boosting help when an older person needs hospital care.”

What to consider when you’re choosing your NHS treatment:

Waiting times: would a hospital further away offer you an appointment more quickly?

Convenience: can you get a bus or train there easily, or is there parking?

Support: if you’re having an operation, would it be better to choose a hospital close to family or friends who can help you recover?

Consistency of care: can everything you need be done in one place?

Emotional factors: is there a hospital you’d prefer to avoid if you’ve had a bad experience there?

Quality: read other patients’ reviews and make your decision

Find out more about your NHS options here and at My Planned Care.

You can find information on waiting times in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, too.

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier


Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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