The National Patient Safety Agency is to push for better information to inform choice after branding the sort of information available to patients as 'meaningless'.
Speaking at a Conservative Party fringe session on patient safety, NPSA communications director Ruth Davison criticised the 'glossy menus' that primary care trusts provide to help patients choose which hospital to be treated at.
Ms Davison, who was standing in for acting chief executive Bill Murray, who had suffered a
family bereavement, said the three ratings in the leaflets on MRSA rates, hospital food and the way hospitals manage risk were a 'meaningless indication for the general public'.
'If people are to make meaningful choices, there needs to be better information,' she said. 'What
the NPSA wants to see is better information to help patients execute choice.'
Stephanie Bown, education director at the Medical Protection Society, which provides insurance for GPs, warned that choice was not an effective driver of healthcare improvement.
'In fact it can make patient safety worse,' she said. 'We have got to think of other drivers to improve patient safety.'
She said patients might choose treatments or hospitals which the doctor believed was against their best clinical interests: 'Patients who refuse evidence-based treatments must bear the responsibility for their choices. But I don't think doctors should collude in their decisions.'
Long-term Medical Conditions Alliance chief executive David Pink said he believed choice had 'great potential', but he said there were dangers such as medical records being lost if people were 'going from hospital to hospital' through choice.
Conservative health spokesman Dr Andrew Murrison said his party was looking at whether to extend direct payments from social care to the NHS to improve choice.
And he called for doctors to take on the role of advocates to ensure that the less well-educated do not lose out through choice.