Local librarians and a £15m website have been unveiled by the government as the twin levers to drive take-up of full choice this year.

The 'flagship super website' NHS Choices will be run by information provider Dr Foster and will be online from July, providing a mixture of comparative data on secondary care providers and reference material on conditions and healthy lifestyles.

The DoH also announced pilots taking in 30 libraries, in 10 areas of the UK, which enable patients to compare hospital performance and book an appointment online with support from trained library staff.

The Partnership for Patients pilot is run by social enterprise Health Link in association with the DoH and other government departments.

The pilot areas for the libraries are Wood Green, Newham, Bromley, Hackney, Southwark, Haringey, Waltham Forest and Greenwich in London; as well as Gloucestershire and Suffolk authority areas.

The website will include: searchable directories of hospitals, GPs and care homes; data on waiting times, cleanliness and readmission rates for NHS hospitals and independent providers with NHS contracts; access to a library of approved medical literature, previously only available to clinicians; multimedia guides on the 40 most common procedures and 20 long-term conditions; individual and family health risk assessments based on age, sex and location; and information on how to stay fit.

It will also allow patients to directly comment on their experience of a service.

The library scheme will involve GPs giving patients a referral letter listing a choice of hospitals, a password to use choose and book and a leaflet directing them to their local library to make the booking.

Each library computer has a Partnership for Patients link, as well as information tailored to the local area from organisations such as the Healthcare Commission and information provider Patient Opinion.

The Department of Health has said patient confidentiality will be protected by turning the PC screen to allow patients to enter their password and date of birth.

Loughborough University will be looking at the effectiveness of the scheme, monitoring the satisfaction of patients, GPs and librarians.

NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon said: 'Anything which improves choice and information is good. Ultimately patients will normally make such decisions with people they trust, so although it's helpful it's not decisive.'

Health Link director Elizabeth Manero said: 'It offers patients neutral support from a librarian and access to PCs for people not IT literate or able to afford a computer. The librarians can just print out the information or book an appointment and patients need never go near a computer.'

The DoH's£12m joint venture deal to set up Dr Foster Intelligence was criticised by a National Audit Office report this year for showing poor commercial acumen and few measures of value for money.

DoH targets new areas for GP provider scheme

Four primary care trusts are the latest to be targeted in the Department of Health's scheme to attract alternative providers to under-doctored areas, reports Helen Mooney.

Despite a three-month delay, the DoH has now called for expressions of interest from the private sector and social enterprises to provide primary care services.

County Durham, Great Yarmouth and Waveney, Hartlepool, and Nottinghamshire County teaching primary care trusts are all set to contract out services.

The PCTs will form part of the second-wave procurement to bring in independent companies to run GP practices and other primary care services.

In the first wave Mercury Health successfully bid to take over the running of a GP practice in City and Hackney teaching PCT. Care UK also secured a deal with Barking and Dagenham PCT to run a 7,000-patient GP surgery.

However, financial pressures have forced the government to scale back the procurement.

Speaking at an HSJ conference in November, DoH commercial directorate general counsel Bleddyn Rees admitted that there had been 'lots of problems' with the first-wave pilots, which saw the shelving of four of the original six areas where the DoH had planned to bring in the private sector to run GP surgeries.

The DoH will publish more information about the schemes tomorrow.

Read the DoH press release