The DoH has announced that, from this week, patients will be able to book their own appointments online in public libraries.
Ten Choose and Book pilots went live this week to help patients in the most disadvantaged communities.
Patients with a Choose and Book reference number will have access through public libraries in seven disadvantaged areas of Greater London, as well as Derbyshire and Suffolk.
‘Trained librarians’ will ‘support’ patients ‘or any member of the public’, the DoH said.
Health secretary Patricia Hewitt said: ‘Using public libraries and the internet is an ideal way to support patients and carers with information. Patients will be able to choose where they want to have their treatment.’
But Dr Meldrum said that most people wanted to go to a hospital on a recommendation they trusted.
‘This idea that booking a hospital appointment should be like booking a holiday is nonsense,’ he said.
He said some patients may like to look up specific pieces of information about car park charges or hospital food. But he added the information may not necessarily be of value.
Dr Meldrum described the initiative as ‘symptomatic’ of information from the DoH. ‘It is bogged down in superficiality and window dressing.
‘It concerns me that it is trying to sell medicine like confectionery,’ said Dr Meldrum.
He said that providing information such as levels of MRSA could confuse patients.
From this summer, patients can choose to have a hip replacement or other elective orthopaedic surgery anywhere in the country.
The DoH plans to offer an England-wide choice to patients requiring any routine surgery by April 2008.