The Department of Health has taken plans to hand more power to patients in making healthcare choices a step further by launching a new online hospital rating service.

The idea of the web-based score card – which works in a similar way to internet comparison sites - is to enable patients to make more informed choices about where to receive hospital treatment, and it is hoped that the move will also help to boost the overall quality of services provided.

As Health Secretary Andy Burnham explained, the service “offers an unparalleled opportunity for hospitals to be made aware of any issues and act to improve their services, helping to drive up standards across the board, and become more patient focused”.

In addition, the move is designed to provide patients with a one-stop-shop of reliable information on aspects of hospital care such as cleanliness, mortality and infection rates, as well as facilities including car parking and food quality, thereby removing the need for patients to search the Internet for relevant data.

Pros and cons
The Patients’ Association has welcomed the move, as, according to vice chairman Michael Summers, the more information patients have about local availability of healthcare and the standards that they are looking for the better.

But earlier this year researchers from Birmingham University warned that the government’s push for digital local health services information could actually be fuelling health inequalities, given that a third of UK households do not have the Internet and a fifth of the population has problems reading.