Access, Choice and Travel: Implications for Health Policy


Address for correspondence: Mark Exworthy, School of Management, Royal Holloway-University of London, Egham, Surrey. TW20 0EX. Email:


The UK National Health Service is introducing policies offering patients a choice of the hospital where they would like to be treated. ‘Patient choice’ policies form part of a wider debate about the access to health care and the interaction between providers (including information, provision, performance and reputation) and patients (including knowledge, resources and willingness to travel). As the hospital of ‘choice’ might not necessarily be the ‘local’ provider, such policy developments are predicated on an assumption that some patients will be willing to travel further. This will, in turn, affect patients’ access to services. In general, use of services decreases with distance but this is dependent on accessibility to services, the organization of those services, the socio-economic characteristics of the patient, perceptions of the provider and the condition for which they are to be treated. This article reviews the evidence on patients’ willingness to travel in terms of access to health care and assesses the emerging implications of and for current UK policy on patient choice.