A private company is about to launch a free hospital data website for patients which could be more comprehensive than the £20m a year NHS Choices site.

HSJ has seen a secret prototype for Dr Foster's 2008 Good Hospital Guide website, which will be launched next week.

Dr Foster lost the contract to develop the Department of Health funded NHS Choices website in July. Now its own guide, which will allow patients to compare hospital performance on common procedures, could challenge the tax-funded service.

Chief executive Tim Kelsey said the guide would have more comprehensive and up-to-date data on hospital activity and performance than NHS Choices. But he said it was "misleading" to view them as direct competitors as NHS Choices included information, for instance on managing conditions, that was not on Dr Foster's site.

The latter will allow patients to compare hospitals, using statistics such as procedure revision rates, waiting times and infection rates for selected common procedures.

Identifying trends

Dr Foster's joint venture with the NHS Information Centre, Dr Foster Intelligence, sells tools to hospitals to help them identify trends that could disadvantage them when compared with competitors.

The guide is produced by sister company Dr Foster Research. Mr Kelsey said: "[The guide means] we have an annual moment in which the NHS pauses, considers what one organisation is saying about its performance, and looks to do something about it. In that sense there is a benefit for Dr Foster Intelligence and anyone else in the [health informatics] sector."

The DH is about to commission a review of its online strategy which will include considering how far NHS Choices and the phone service NHS Direct should integrate.

A DH spokesman said: "NHS Choices has the most comprehensive health information in England. It is the official reference point for NHS performance and choice of services, with new data being added to the site every month."

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