The Department of Health has shifted its ever-growing choice agenda in the National Health Service up a gear with the launch of a new online portal designed to allow patients to rate GP practices in England online a la consumer comparison sites such as TripAdvisor.

The move, which follows the creation of a similar facility back in the summer for scoring hospitals around the country, will provide patients with a one-stop-shop of key information on practices, such as opening times and facilities, as well as user comments on other aspects of care including to what degree patients are involved in decision-making and how easy it is to get an appointment.

It is envisaged that the new tool – which can be accessed at www.nhs.uk - will help patients make more informed choices about where to receive primary care, particularly after GP practice boundaries are abolished within the coming months to allow patients to visit any surgery in the country, thus opening up the playing field.

In addition, it is hoped that encouraging patient feedback and providing a user-friendly portal to access relevant information will introduce an extra element of competition and therefore help to drive up quality standards in primary care as practices benchmark themselves and battle for patients.

“This new tool allows every single GP practice in the country to see the patient’s view on what they are doing well and what needs to be improved. It will help drive up quality across the board, and is another step in ensuring we have a modern NHS which reflects the needs of the patient,” Health Minister Mike O’Brien explained.

On the downside, researchers from Birmingham University warned earlier this year that current 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.