The much-criticised NHS Choices website will relaunch this month and attempt to position itself as part of the personalised NHS.
In a series of interviews, the Department of Health website's top team acknowledged the problems that have occurred since the site launched in June but said the new version - of which HSJ has had an exclusive preview - would overcome these.
GPs were highly critical of the original because many of their contact details and opening times were out of date (for more background, click here). And independent providers complained it was difficult for patients to find them on the website.
Officially described as an 'upgrade', the new version of NHS Choices will bring together a MySpace-type function for GPs to create their own web pages; evidence-based health information for the public from the national electronic library for health; data allowing patients to compare NHS trusts; and a directory of services.
NHS Choices was developed out of the old www.nhs.uk site and given a 'soft launch' in June.
Beverley Bryant, chief information officer at the DoH and NHS Choices project lead, admitted there had been problems with the early version. 'We inherited the old NHS services directory and it was wildly out of date and hugely inaccurate.'
Alan Plunkett, managing director of Dr Foster Intelligence, which holds the£10m NHS Choices contract, acknowledged the navigation problems that made it difficult to use the website's facility for choosing a hospital. 'We hold our hands up to that,' he said.
The new version is due to go live on 15 October, with a public launch at the end of the month.
The British Medical Association and NHS Partners Network have welcomed the upgrade. Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, said: 'It's a good idea and will benefit patients, practices and doctors. We will be telling our members to try it.'
NHS Partners Network spokesman Graham Kendall said: 'We welcome the improvements but the proof will be in the testing when it comes out.'
Dr Foster Intelligence programme director Tim Kelsey said many of the new tools on offer and in development would begin to create 'electronic pathways for patients'.
'We have heard [health secretary Alan] Johnson talking about the personalised NHS. Technology does offer a relatively quick and viable opportunity to deliver that,' he said.
But there are some unknowns in NHS Choices' future. It is not clear whether Professor Sir Bruce Keogh will remain as chair of its clinical advisory group now that he has been appointed NHS medical director. And the contract to run the website comes up for tender in 2008.
Boots and Lloydspharmacy are both launching new consumer health websites. AskBoots went live last week in a partnership venture with BMJ Group to provide access to its BestTreatments database, previously used by NHS Direct. Lloydspharmacy is working with NetDoctor and will launch soon.