Secretary Patricia Hewitt 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.
Key among these initiatives was the launch of a new flagship website - NHS Choices.
NHS Choices will "go live" this summer and will empower patients to access a wide range of information, such as:
The website will have 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, commented: "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."
Another initiative to improve patient choice is the introduction of "library pilots". From today, patients or any member of the public in 10 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 online.
At a visit to a library pilot in Wood Green, London, Patricia Hewitt said: "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."
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