Patients' attendance at clinics is worse with Choose and Book than with traditional GP referrals, say senior doctors from University Hospital Lewisham in a letter to this week's British Medical Journal.
The authors carried out a pilot study at their hospital and found a significant difference in nonattendance (18% with Choose and Book compared to 12% with GP referrals).
They also point to a recent study showing that most patients are not experiencing a significant choice in appointment time, date, or hospital.
"Choose and Book has failed to achieve its main goal of improving patients' satisfaction and attendance," write the authors. "Moreover, it creates an unnecessary economic burden on the health system and jeopardises the prioritisation process by removing clinicians from the process."
Yesterday (Tuesday 3 February 2009), the latest National Patient Choice Survey results released by the government revealed that 46% of patients polled in September 2008 recalled being offered a choice of hospital for their first outpatient appointment, the same as in July, compared with 30% in the first survey (May/June 2006).
In addition, 89% of patients offered choice were able to go to the hospital they wanted, with a further 4% having no preference. This compares with 47% of patients not offered choice able to go where they wanted and 40% having no preference.
And 77% of patients said they were satisfied with how long they had to wait from the time their GP referred them to when they saw the hospital specialist.