A useful step forward for the NHS

This latest announcement from the Department of Health starts in the way statements from the department too often begin: with politically partsian hyperbole. But those with the perseverance to read on may be surprised to see that officials are announcing a potentially useful service.

The announcement is headlined: Launch of a new flagship super website NHS Choices

After jejune remarks attributed to the Health Secretary, the statement says that anyone living in ten areas across the country will be able to go to their local library and have trained librarians support them as they choose and book hospital appointments on-line. It’s also claimed that the public may be able to get information on which hospitals are worth choosing. Details of hospital readmission rates for example will be available online.

Access to a library of approved medical literature, previously only available to clinicians will enable a deeper understanding of conditions and treatment options, adds the announcement.

This is a clear step forward for healthcare but it’s a pity the announcement shows not a passing interest in unembellished fact. A service that’s launched by the Department of Health seems always to be a flagship service. A new website seems always to be a “super website”.

Maybe officials contrive to make all announcements sound the same: you then have to look at the detail to see what’s new, if anything.


The announcement is below:


New website will extend choice to all communities

Patient Choice also supported by trained librarians

Any choice of hospital for hip ops – to start 1yr early

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt today announced a package of measures to help patients in the most disadvantaged communities make choices about their healthcare and empower them to shape services around their needs and experience.

Patient choice will be accessible for all through a range of new initiatives:

• Launch of a new flagship super website NHS Choices

• Choice Library pilots

• From July a ‘free’ choice of any hospital provider in the country for patients needing orthopaedic and hip replacement treatments

At a visit to a library pilot in Wood Green, London, Patricia Hewitt said:

“We are determined to put patients at the heart of the NHS and making sure patients can access and share information about health services is a crucial part of that. Patients will soon be able to choose, with the click of a button, where they want to have their treatment. Our new choice website will allow the public and clinicians to access a range of information through one super site that will act as a gateway to navigate NHS services.

“Patient choice is about people being in control. Patients needing a hospital appointment should have the right to pick and choose their time, date and place. To make this happen, we need to invest in facilities to help patients take control. Using public libraries and the internet is an ideal way to support patients, families and carers with information.”

From today, patients or any member of the public in ten areas across the country will be able to go to their local library and have trained librarians support them as they choose and book hospital appointments on-line offering new convenience and flexibility.

NHS Choices will ‘go-live’ this summer and will empower patients to access a wide of information:

• Searchable comprehensive directories e.g. on hospitals, GPs and care homes;

• Comparative data on hospital waiting times, cleanliness and readmission rates;

• Access to a vast library of approved medical literature, previously only available to clinicians, to enable a deeper understanding of conditions & treatment options;

• Easy to understand multi-media guides on the 40 most common procedures e.g. hip replacement;

• Detailed guides to living with 20 long-term conditions such as diabetes will help patients manage their condition. Expert opinions from professionals and patients will provide advice and support;

• Individual and family health risk assessments based on age, sex and location;

• Information that will help the well to stay fit and assist those who are unwell to manage their condition;

• ‘Magazine’ content that will reflect the interests and needs of different groups such as teenagers, families and those over 70; and

• Patients will be able to directly comment and feedback on their hospital.

State-of-the art interactive and multi-media technology will extend choice to the most disadvantaged groups in society and the website will overcome the digital divide by making information available in a range of formats. Audio programmes will be available for streaming to local radio stations, televisual content will be supplied for burning onto DVDs, and Health professionals will be able to provide lifestyle information about healthier living with pamphlets that can be printed off at public libraries or in the GP surgery.

NHS Choices has received strong backing from clinicians and patient groups. Dr. Tom Coffey, a GP in South London, and Chair of the new health network, said:

“I welcome this new website because it will mean that patients and I will be using the same authoritative clinical information. It will also give me an instant library of patient information, which I can use during consultations and provide to patients.”

The Health Secretary also announced that from this summer – one year earlier than expected – patients needing elective treatment for hip replacements and orthopaedic surgery will be able to choose any treatment centre right across the country if they meet NHS standards and costs.

Currently all patients requiring any routine surgery can choose from four local hospitals, 34 foundation trusts and 15 independent sector providers. The aim is that from April 2008, patients will be able to choose from any hospital that meets NHS standards and costs but, as outlined today, this ‘free’ choice is being delivered earlier than expected for some kinds of surgery.


1. An invitation to tender for the dedicated choice website was issued on Monday 22 January. Following a competition between six companies Dr Foster Intelligence has been awarded to design and develop the website.

2. List of library pilots:

Library Authority Library Branch Name

Newham Canning Town; The Gate; Plaistow

Bromley Orpington; Chislehurst; West Wickham

Hackney Shoreditch; Stamford Hill; Hackney Central

Southwark Dulwich; Peckham; Rotherhithe

Haringey Wood Green Central Library; Marcus Garvey Library; St. Ann’s Library

Waltham Forest Walthamstow; Leytonstone; Chingford

Greenwich Plumstead; East Greenwich; Eltham

Derbyshire Bolsover; Bakewell; Hayfield plus mobile libraries with broadband enabled by satellite.

Gloucestershire Coleford (Forest Of Dean); Dursley;


Suffolk Bury St Edmunds; Clare; Haverhill

3. Partnership for Patients started as a collaboration between Health Link, a patient organisation operating as a social enterprise, London Libraries Development Agency the strategic leadership agency for London’s libraries and London Health Libraries, working together to put into practice what patients said they needed to make Choice work for them. It grew into a unique collaboration across three government departments, the Department of Health, Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with the Museums Libraries and Archives Council, led by Health Link. This Partnership has set up 10 local ‘partnerships for patients’ so that altogether 67 organisations (libraries, PCTS and hospital Trusts) are working together and pooling resources for the benefit of patients – powerful local force for making choice a reality for all patients.

4. Updated patient choice booklets are available from every PCT and data on the national extended choice network published on www.nhs.uk. The booklets will contain performance data for the Independent Sector (IS) for the first time as well as more information on patient experience.