In 2012, the coalition government introduced the legal right for National Health Service (NHS) patients in England to choose their mental healthcare provider for out-patient treatment. This was a significant step towards parity of care between mental and physical ill health, and NHS Improvement and NHS England have provided sensible guidance on its implementation. However, several factors prevent the system from working as it was intended: lack of awareness of the principle of patient choice for out-patient treatment; complacency from some trusts and commissioners; mental health trusts operating outside the e-referrals system; misuse of care pathways; lack of direct access by many general practitioners for out-of-area referrals; and delays in authorisation for funding. I describe how I have come to this conclusion and suggest some solutions.
The author is employed by a trust that potentially benefits from ‘patient choice’.
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