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The website recommended by nhs.uk is no longer free at point of delivery.

BestTreatments, a website for patients linked to extensively by the NHS's core site, has imposed charges following the end of government funding.

BestTreatments.co.uk, which is run by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is charging users £14.99 plus VAT for annual access to the whole site, £9.99 plus VAT for a month's access, or £3 plus VAT for a month's access to pages on a single condition, operation or test.

Its pages currently appear prominently in search results produced by the central nhs.uk website, which is run by Connecting for Health (CfH) using Google's search technology. BestTreatments pages appear first on searches for "smoking" and "AIDS", in both cases as highlighted "suggested links" which are chosen by CfH, and second on searches for "asthma" and "cancer".

CfH did not provide an immediate response as to whether it would change this.

The BMJ said it was forced to end free access to the site, which it said has received nearly 1 million page views each month.

"We are very disappointed by this situation," said its editor Cherrill Hicks. "The government recognises that people need high quality health information to help them feel more in control and enable them to make informed decisions with their doctor.

"The Department of Health (DoH) should be prepared to pay for people to have access to such information. Instead, through the information prescription scheme, they are relying on voluntary organisations to provide information that cannot claim the same level of rigour as BMJ BestTreatments."

The DoH turned down the BMJ's application for continued funding earlier this year.

"It didn't have a far enough reach and was duplicating information that was available in other places," said a spokesperson.

The department announced the "information prescription" scheme on 27 March, under which patients in pilot areas will be provided with addresses of relevant websites, telephone support lines and groups for their conditions.

A sister site for medical professionals, ClinicalEvidence.com – whose pages also appear within nhs.uk searches, although not as prominently – has also ended free access, with the BMJ imposing an annual charge of £129, although discounts apply for British Medical Association members, nurses, and students.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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