A study by University College, London, has found that patients are not being offered a choice in appointment times, dates and locations despite the advent of a "Choose and Book" system under the NHS's National Programme for IT [NPfIT].
Only one patient who took part in the UCL survey was offered a choice of four hospitals, appointment date and time - the minimum promised to patients under the Choose and Book system.
But the study was carried out in 2006 and only a limited number of patients took part - 104. The study is published online in the journal BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making.
Henry Potts, of the UCL Centre for Health Informatics and Multiprofessional Education, who oversaw the study, said, "It is clear from these results that these patients were not experiencing the degree of choice that Choose and Book was designed to deliver. This may be only one hospital, with results taken in a transitional period, but we believe this could be typical of the national picture.
"Patient choice has been heralded as the driver for transforming the NHS and a means of meeting the expectations of patients. It is cited as the solution to much that is presently wrong with the NHS - from excessive waiting times to even car parking issues.
"It is striking that nobody, up until to this point, has actually asked patients about their experience of the system. These results show the reality of what is happening on the ground, surely vital when it comes to measuring to what extent this is working or not. This study also raises many wider questions such as what patients understand by choice and, indeed, whether they actually want choice."