Published: 17/11/2005 Volume 115 No. 5982 Page 23

Martin Rathfelder, director, Socialist Health Association

I am glad that someone is pointing out that patients (and those who would like to become patients) find it very difficult to get information, although I could have provided this insight for much less than£900,000 (news, page 9, 6 October).

After all, in most hospitals it is difficult to discover where the nearest toilet is before you start on clinical information, which is usually concealed behind acronyms and jargon.

When I first went to work in a hospital I was pleased to discover that there was a large information department, but disappointed to find that they only collected it and didn't distribute it.

Unless strenuous and determined efforts are made to ensure independent advice and information is provided to those who are disadvantaged, the extension of patient choice will have the effect of further increasing health inequalities as those who have resources take full advantage of these new opportunities.

Advice and information services are expensive and cannot be left to providers. They must be independent if they are to be credible. They must be comprehensive if they are to be useful. They need to be proactive if they are to reach people who may not realise they have a problem or are too disadvantaged to do anything about it.