The UK National Health Service (NHS) has merged its NHS Choices and NHS Direct websites, creating what is one of the most comprehensive on-line health information services in the world.

The new website, NHS Choices at www.nhs.uk, provides safe and accurate on-line information to meet the huge public demand for health information on the Internet by creating a single “front door” to the NHS’ entire range of knowledge and services, says the Department of Health.

Since April, patients referred to see a specialist have been able to choose where they are treated from any hospital which meets NHS standards, including many which are private. On the new site, patients can compare hospitals by clicking on the option “compare hospitals” and selecting their postcode and treatment required. They can also access data on a range of clinical and non-clinical indicators, including methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) rates, survival rates and car parking.

Other features on the new integrated NHS Choices site include: - NHS Guides to long-term conditions, which provide step-by-step guidance from prevention to living with a condition; - Health A-Z, explaining more than 700 treatments and conditions in words and videos; - Self-Help Guides, providing on-line tools to help establish the extent of an ailment and whether further medical support is needed; - Health Encyclopaedia, which gives reliable information on more than 800 conditions and treatments; - Common Health Questions, allowing users to obtain answers to topical and frequently-asked health questions; - Online Enquiry Service, which allows users to submit and receive answers to non-emergency health questions; - NHS blogs, on-line communities discussing what it involves to live with a long-term condition; - Live Well, magazine-style advice on how to stay fit and healthy from patients and experts; - Pregnancy Care Planner, the first NHS one-stop shop for expectant parents; - Patient Ratings, enabling users to leave comments on a hospital and read what others are saying; and – Find a Service, which lists the entire range of NHS services all in one place.

“By putting all our on-line health information on http://www.nhs.uk, the public will easily be able to find out the most suitable health options for them, from where to have their treatment to the best ways of keeping fit and healthy,” said Health Minister Ben Bradshaw. “This single site will make it easier for the public to find reliable health information quickly and will give relevant and accurate advice that will help them to make their own decisions and choices about their health and healthcare,” he added.