Health secretary Patricia Hewitt has launched ten ‘choice’ library pilots. Librarians in the pilots will be trained to help people find and make sense of information about different healthcare providers and "choose and book" their hospital appointment.

A DH spokesperson told EHI that the librarians would help people better understand the choices available to them, but would not actually be booking appointments. 

In addition, the minister announced the launch of a new ‘NHS Choices’. As reported by EHI yesterday the new website is intended to help put patients in control of decisions about their treatment by enabling them to access and share information about NHS services.

At a visit to a library pilot in Wood Green, London, 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.

She added: "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."

Hewitt said that in the ten pilot areas members of the public will be able to go to their local library "and have trained librarians support them as they choose and book hospital appointments on-line".

The idea is to help patients better understand the choices available to them. Having been provided with a unique booking reference number (UBRN) and a series of treatment option during their GP consultation a patient can then go away and research the different treatment options.  They can then make their choice using the Choose and Book telephone service or the self-service option on MyHealthSpace.

The health secretary also gave details of the new NHS Choices website which will go-live this summer. The portal being built by Dr Foster Intelligence under a £10m contract is intended to provide searchable comprehensive directories on hospitals, GPs and care homes; and comparative data on hospital waiting times, cleanliness and readmission rates.

The site will also enable patients to directly comment and feedback on their hospital. Other planned features of the portal include: individual and family health risk assessments based on age, sex and location.

In addition "a vast library of approved medical literature, previously only available to clinicians" is promised, together with "easy to understand multi-media guides on the 40 most common procedures and guides to living with 20 long-term conditions such as diabetes. Expert opinions from professionals and patients will provide advice and support.

The ambitious site will provide "state-of-the art interactive and multi-media technology" to extend choice to the most disadvantaged groups in society and the website. "Audio programmes will be available for streaming to local radio stations, televisual content will be supplied for burning onto DVDs".

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."

Dr Foster Intelligence was awarded the contract to design and develop the site following a 22 January tender and competition between six companies.