For the first time patients will be able to compare NHS services to those offered by independent providers in an updated choice manual to be published this week.
Choosing Your Hospital - national menuwill be distributed by GPs to all patients who want more time to make a choice or who are unhappy with local options. It will give performance information on every hospital in England and, for the first time, independent sector which are available to NHS patients.
Department of Health choice implementation lead Diana Cowles told a session at the conference: 'For the first time we have included the independent sector comparative information.
'The booklet is a refreshed version of an existing publication out in December last year. It follows the reconfiguration of primary care trusts and new data from the Health Commission on which the booklet is based.'
The prime minister's health adviser, Professor Paul Corrigan, said there would be much more choice available in 10 years' time.
'What we need to see is people being able to choose on the basis of a much greater variety of things, such as: &Quot;How many times do I have to go for tests?&Quot;. If we move the choice agenda on to the things that people are more upset [about] and interested in, I think it'll take up much quicker.'
He praised a website of patient anecdotes set up by Dr Paul Hodgkin of Sheffield PCT - www.patientopinion.org.uk- which allows patients to comment on treatment they received and for managers and clinicians to respond.
'The website is a more immediate way for managers to get information,' said Dr Hodgkin. 'Hospitals who are truly customer focused can get a constant stream of specific information and adjust more quickly.'