The DH’s digital communications review describes the future of NHS Direct and NHS Choices as “unfinished business” - but stops short of recommending the two services should be merged.

The review responds to a report undertaken for the DH last year by Dr Foster Intelligence and KPMG, which HSJ has also seen.

The report was based on interviews with senior NHS managers and DH officials and supported the creation of an “integrated national information and advice service”.

It concludes that NHS Direct and NHS Choices should be combined into one organisation, while retaining both brands. Their role would change to be part of a single “multi-channel national front door” to the NHS and social care services.

The DFI/KPMG report said the central agency should also support strong local NHS digital services. The DH review states: “From the user perspective, NHS Choices and NHS Direct are both established as national sites with similarities of positioning, brand and audience. This confuses users about the ‘definitive’ access point for NHS information and the roles of each site.”

This meant “resources are not used efficiently in maintaining two national level channels”.

The review reflects on the “case for integration of NHS Choices and NHS Direct” in the Dr Foster/KPMG report and comments on the “strong sense of unfinished business in this area”.

But it recommends only that a new digital communications strategy should look at the role of a “national-level online channel” and how it might relate to Choices and Direct.

A DH spokeswoman told HSJ: “We know that information is the key to patient choice and control as well as better outcomes for patients.”

NHS brand undermined by online confusion