Online information for patients should be delivered by a single provider, according to consumer group Which?.

In its response to the Liberating the NHS white paper, seen by HSJ, the independent consumer organisation said NHS Choices would be its recommended provider of patient information.

Which? drew on various consultation exercises to respond to the NHS reform proposals. It said it endorses the principle of a patient-led NHS and that with increased choice “information about the quality of care will be key to enabling this”.

In a survey of nearly 2,000 Which? members, 61 per cent of respondents said they would want a “one stop shop website” for health service information.

This single provider must be “honest, objective, credible, an authority figure, unbiased, consumer friendly/focused, clear and take action where it is needed”, says Which?.  NHS Choices was recommended as the natural provider as it is “well known by consumers”.

Regarding healthcare information in general, the Which? response said its research suggested “people continue to view the GP as the key provider of information about health choices”.

However, it also found “the concept of choice appears to be more relevant to patients when choosing hospitals as opposed to GPs”. It adds: “It was perceived that hospitals do differ significantly in their level of service, expertise, reputation, facilities and specialism.”

Which? said in its response that patients were prepared to travel to get the best care, and cleanliness was overwhelmingly seen as the most important information to guide patient choices. The response said NHS information must be provided in differing levels of detail and in a range of formats – not only online.

Only 10 per cent of Which? members were aware of their local involvement networks (LINks). The response says that LINks have failed to “engage with broad swathes of their local populations”.