Microsoft Ltd  and MSN  have announced the launch of the online Public Services Channel offering access to online government and healthcare services for its monthly 11.2 million users.

The new online channel, which went live on December 7, can be accessed through the MSN home page and provides online access to health information and details of a range of other government services.

The Public Services Channel is the result of collaboration working between several government departments including the Department of Health and the Office of the e-Envoy.

Access to three key NHS websites are provided through the new channel: for local and national information on health services; NHS Direct Online for patient advice and information; and the National Electronic Library for Health (NeLH), which provides information on more detailed Clinical Evidence-based resources for doctors and patients.

Through members of the public can search and find details of local NHS services, including where to find their nearest GP, pharmacy, dentist or optician. They can also access information on hospital waiting times and outcomes, maps to find the nearest hospital, parking and public transport.

Judy Aldred, programme manager at the NHS Information Authority (NHSIA) commented: "We want to provide access to the kind of information that will really add value to patients, from finding their nearest GP, anywhere in the UK, through to maps and transport information.”

Commenting on the role of the NeLH, Dr. Muir Gray, Director of NeLH said: “The site provides access to clinical evidence for ‘informed patients’ as well as health care professionals so the public now have the same access to clinical information as the NHS.”

NHSDirect Online completes the healthcare line-up. Bob Gann, Director of NHS Direct Online, said: “The web site (NHS Direct Online) provides high quality, authoritative health advice and information, helping patients to make better informed health and lifestyle choices.”

Jenny Duff, Industry Manager, Public Sector at Microsoft said the new site represented effective partnership between Microsoft, MSN and UKOnline: “This is an enormous step forward to delivering government information and services online."

She added: " As more services come online over the next few months, citizens will start to experience more and more value and it is our intention to ensure that as many people as possible find and use health and government services through the Internet.”

The Public Services Channel is being launched in co-operation with some of the key departments of government in addition to the NHS, including the Inland Revenue, the Department for Education and Skills, Department for Work and Pensions and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.