The number of health-related sites on the Internet is growing rapidly. It is estimated that in the UK alone around 60,000 organisations provide health and social care information for patients and the public. Unfortunately, the levels of accuracy, clarity and currency of the information provided can vary greatly. This page gives a selection of mainly UK websites which offer useful health information about conditions, treatments and services.
If you want to find out more about a diagnosis you have been given or if you are worried about a medical problem, consult your doctor. He or she will be able to give you advice about your condition and should also be able to suggest sources of further information to help you find out more.
- College-produced patient information
- NHS information
- Health gateways
- Patient involvement
- Regulation and safety
- Other useful sites
- Quality of information
The Royal College of Surgeons Patient Liaison Group has produced several information guides for patients that can be freely downloaded:
- Patient Rights and Responsibilities
- Children Going into Hospital
- Having an Operation?
- Child Patient Rights and Responsibilities
For other information produced by the Royal College of Surgeons, please visit our publications page.
- NHS Choices and guides to a healthier lifestyle. Presented in words, pictures, video and audio.
- NHS Direct Online
Includes health features, links to thousands of sources of help and advice for health conditions, audioclips and an A-Z guide to the National Health Service.
- NHS Evidence
NHS evidence provides easy access to a comprehensive evidence base for everyone in health and social care who takes decisions about treatment or the use of resources.
- About the NHS
A guide to the structure of the NHS and what you can expect from its services and organisations.
- NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence)
Provides guidance on current "best practice" in individual health technologies (including medicines, medical devices, diagnostic techniques, and procedures) and the clinical management of specific conditions.
'Gateway' sites group together material relating to particular healthcare topics, often providing links to other websites, support groups and organisations, online publications and patient information, discussion lists, news and more in any subject area.
- BBC Health
Informative site covering all aspects of health.
- NHS local
A gateway to local health and social care information for UK patients, their families and carers.
- Harley Street Guide
The Harley Street Guide is aimed at patients from the UK and abroad who are seeking information about doctors, dentists, hospitals and medical and clinical services available in the centre of London.
Comprehensive health information and education resource.
- Medline Plus
Organised by the National Library of Medicine in the United States, this provides access to extensive information about specific diseases and conditions.
Patient-focused site providing quality-assessed, where possible evidence-based, health information.
- Patient UK
A UK directory that aims to help non-medical people find information on health and illness by providing links to many UK health related websites and support groups.
- PRODIGY patient information
Department of Health funded information leaflets on a range of diseases and health related topics, details of patient/support groups, and clear diagrams to illustrate topics.
- Surgery Door
Health website offering news, medical information and advice.
Organisations' sites will reflect the area that they themselves are concerned with, whether a specific medical area or a broader involvement in patient issues. Many organisational sites, while focusing on a particular aspect of healthcare, also provide gateway search facilities across a range of topics.
- Cancer Research UK
UK charitable research organisation concerned with cancer and cancer care.
- Contact a Family
UK charity supporting families who care for children with disabilities or special needs. Also a source of information about rare disorders, able to assist affected adults as well as children.
- Patients' Association
Voluntary organisation representing patients within the NHS.
- The Princess Royal Trust for Carers
UK charity that provides information, support and practical help to carers.
The NHS Plan (2000) committed every NHS Trust to establish a Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) to address the needs of patients, families and supporters at the point of origin. PALS should be able to provide information about:
- the Trust and local health services
- specific conditions
- external sources of advice, information and support
- how to access relevant financial support e.g. hospital travel cost schemes
- the NHS Complaints Procedure
- how the NHS uses confidential information about patients
Tel: 0845 4647 (local rate)
NHS Direct (covering England and Wales) is a 24-hour nurse-led advice and health information service, providing confidential information about:
- what to do if you or your family are feeling ill
- specific health conditions
- local healthcare services, such as doctors, dentists or late night opening pharmacies
- self help and support organisations.
NHS24 is a similar service for Scotland on 08454 242424. Further details can be found on the NHS 24 website (www.nhs24.com).
Support and self-help groups
There are hundreds of support and self-help groups that are actively involved in promoting the interests of patients with particular conditions. The internet can be a good source of information about support groups - see our information page. Useful listings of support groups, charities etc. include those on the NHS Support Services, Patient UK and PRODIGY websites.
The Patients Association is an independent charity working for the involvement of patients in health decision making. It welcomes inquiries from patients looking for advice or information on healthcare matters and medical conditions, as well as those who are concerned about the standard of health service that they are receiving.
PO Box 935
Middlesex HA1 3YJ
Helpline: 0845 608 4455 (local rate) (Monday-Friday, 10.00-16.00, answerphone out of hours)
Regulatory bodies and practitioners' registration
You can find more information about practitioners' qualifications and registration in the BMA's doctors' registration section.
- General Medical Council (GMC)
The GMC is the body responsible for licensing and regulating doctors, with legal powers to protect patients by maintaining the profesional standards the public have a right to expect. It promotes good medical practice; keeps an up-to-date register of all doctors qualified to practise in the UK; promotes high standards of medical education; and deals with cases in which a doctor's fitness to practice is in doubt.
350 Euston Road
London NW1 3JN
General enquiries tel: 0161 923 6602
The GMC maintains the List of Registered Medical Practitioners, an online database (updated daily) of all doctors registered to practise in the UK. The register can be freely searched online.
Please note that the GMC no longer produces a paper copy of the Medical Register, the List of Registered Medical Practioners' predecessor.
- General Dental Council (GDC)
The General Dental Council is the regulatory body for the dental profession. It protects the public by means of legal powers similar to those of the GMC, maintaining a register of dentists, dental hygienists or therapists qualified to practise in the UK, and has legal powers relating to dental education and professional conduct.
37 Wimpole Street
London W1G 8DQ
Tel: 020 7887 3800
The GDC's registers (the Dentists Register, Roll of Dental Auxiliaries, and the 13 Specialist Lists) are also freely available online.
Medical and health libraries
Your local library should have information about medical libraries in your area that are open to the public; you may wish to consult the 'Guide to Libraries and Information Sources in Medicine and Health Care, 3rd edition' (2001: British Library Science Reference and Information Service, ISBN 0712308563).
The Health Library and Information Services Directory (HLISD), launched in July 2006, provides details about health libraries and can be searched by location and specialism.
Patient involvement in healthcare
- The Patients Association
A UK health education charity that aims to improve public knowledge about health issues and to encourage better communication between patients and health professionals.
- Expert Patients Programme
An NHS programme giving opportunities to people who live with long-term chronic conditions to develop skills to manage their condition, and to help others to do the same.
INVOLVE is a national advisory Group, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, which aims to promote and support active public involvement in NHS, public health and social care.
- NHS Choices
Government initiatives to give patients more choice about how, when and where they receive treatment and to involve patients in shaping local care systems.
Local Involvement Networks made up of individuals and community groups who work to improve local health and social care services.
- General Dental Council
The regulatory body for the dental profession in the UK.
- General Medical Council
The regulatory body for the medical profession in the UK.
- The Health Service Ombudsman
Investigates complaints about the NHS.
- NHS Commissioning Board
The NHS CB works to improve patient safety within the UK.
- DVLA medical standards for drivers
Includes the At a Glance Guide to the Current Medical Standards of Fitness to Drive booklet (AAG).
- Action on Smoking and Health - Smoking and Surgery
- Best Health
Patients can find out which treatments really work, the information on the website comes from the British Medical Journal's worldwide survey of the best, most up-to-date medical research, used by doctors everywhere.
- Breast Cancer Lymphoedema This initiative, organised by the Patient Liaison Group of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, with support from the Patient Liaison Group of the Royal College of Surgeons, aims to address patient concerns surrounding breast cancer related lymphoedema.
Patients' personal accounts (written, audio and video) of all aspects of their illness and treatment.
Government and public service information, including information for carers, disabled people, parents, young people, over-50s, and a health and well-being section.
- NHS Choices Languages Hub
Provides links to healthcare infomation in other languages to English.
- Social Care Online
Contains information for carers and users of social care, including guidelines, publications, legislation and links.
When searching for healthcare information on the Internet, it is important to assess the reliability and accuracy of what you find. Although there is no definitive way of doing this, the following hints should help:
- Look at the selection criteria a gateway uses when providing links. Gateways normally evaluate the resources they refer to, which means that they have already done some quality assessment for you
- Look for sites produced, developed or backed by organisations that you know are reputable, such as government departments, independent charities, consumer groups or support groups.
- Look for the sites adhering to guidelines such as the Health on the Net Foundation's HON Code of Conduct.
- Be wary of sites that advertise products only available through them, or who present undocumented medical studies to support claims. Always look for the qualifications and affiliations of the page's author or authors.
- Look to see whether the page tells you when it was created and most recently updated.
The European Commission published a policy paper on quality criteria for health websites in December 2002 which is freely available as an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research:
- Commission of the European Communities, eEurope 2002: Quality criteria for health related websites. Journal of Medical Internet Research 2002;4(3):e15 (www.jmir.org/2002/3/e15/)
The following sites offer very useful advice on assessing patient information that you might find, whether on the internet or in printed form:
A brief questionnaire which provides users with a valid and reliable way of assessing the quality of written information on treatment choices for a health problem.
- Virtual Training Suite for Medicine
An online tutorial that includes sections on searching the internet effectively and assessing the sites you find.
Organisations and websites included here do not necessarily reflect the views of The Royal College of Surgeons of England, nor does their inclusion constitute a recommendation.