The NHS Choices website is hampering users' ability to access the extended choice list, a network of independent providers has claimed.

NHS Partners Network manager Graham Kendall said the website did not automatically point users towards independent or NHS providers on the extended choice network.

Free choice officially started on 1 July with orthopaedics. A patient needing orthopaedic treatment can choose any provider on the network, including NHS trusts, independent sector treatment centres and other approved providers (see list below).

HSJ understands a provisional timetable sees choice rolling out to general surgery this autumn, gynaecology and cardiac surgery in December and ear, nose and throat in February. By April 2008 all specialties are expected to offer choice.

But HSJ was unable to find details on the extended network on the NHS Choices website, despite assurances that it was available.

Mr Kendall said: 'If you search under body part you cannot access the choice network. The system will only give you local options.'

He said this was putting at risk the choice initiative, which allows patients to choose any NHS or independent provider who can meet NHS prices and NHS standards.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'We are reviewing the set-up of the screens on the NHS Choices website all the time. The visibility of orthopaedic free choice is likely to be improved as part of an October update.

'When it is launched the availability of treatment provided by NHS Partners Network members will be improved.'

The choice menu

So far 11 providers have signed up to free choice:

  • Benenden Healthcare
  • BUPA Healthcare
  • Capio
  • Centres of Clinical Excellence
  • Classic Hospitals
  • The Horder Centre
  • Hospital Management Trust
  • Nations Healthcare
  • BMI/Netcare
  • Nuffield Hospitals
  • Mercury Health