The NHS white paper published yesterday by health secretary Andrew Lansley gives a major role to Choose and book in radically extending patient choice across the health service.

The paper – ‘Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS’ – says the government wants to “maximise the use” of the NHS’ electronic booking service, on which it says momentum has “stalled.”

“It has remained the case for several years that just under half of patients recall that their GP has offered them choice.

"The Department will increase that significantly,” it says, adding: “We will explore with the profession and patient groups how we can make rapid progress towards this goal.”

One move will be to change the standard acute contract so that providers list named consultants on Choose and Book.

The white paper says the current “choice of any willing provider” for patients will be extended to “choice of named consultant-led team” from next April – when it also wants to introduce choice for diagnostic testing and for some mental health services.

Patients will be given the option of registering with any GP practice with an open list, regardless of where they live. Eventually, the white paper says the government wants a new choice – choice of treatment – on which it will consult later this year.

The white paper focuses on a radical shake-up of NHS structures, backed up by an “information revolution” for NHS patients. However, it makes a number of other specific technology commitments, picking up on pledges in the Conservative manifesto.

It says a “coherent, 24/7 urgent care service” will be developed in every area of England, made accessible through “a single telephone number for every kind of urgent and social care” and “technology to help people communicate with their clinicians.”

But it is much vaguer on the future of electronic records, particularly the Summary Care Record and its linked patient portal, HealthSpace, and commercial alternatives such as Microsoft’s HealthVault, which launched in the UK earlier this month.

The white paper says that patients will have “control” of their health records, but this will start with “access to records held by their GP” and eventually “other providers.”

It says patients will be able to “download” their records and pass them to third parties of their choice in a “standard format.”

In the press launch for the white paper, NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson said a paper on the future of the National Programme for IT in the NHS in the wake of the latest shake-up of the health service would be published “in the next four weeks.”

However, in an intriguing line buried in a final section on ‘cutting bureaucracy and improving efficiency’, the white paper says the DH will be cutting its budgets for centrally manged programmes and that "NHS services will increasingly be empowered to be customers of a more plural system of IT and other suppliers."