Attempts to give more choice to users of public sector services has been a major theme of the Labour government's public sector modernisation programme.
Policies have been developed in health care, education and social housing that aim to give users a greater choice of publicly or privately owned providers, and to ensure that a proportion of the funding to providers follows those choices.
The government believes that this will put pressure on providers to improve their services and make them more responsive to users' needs.
Although the scope of 'choice' in health care is potentially large (including choice of treatment) this briefing looks at the development and impact of reforms to give patients a choice of provider for their planned hospital care.
It is this aspect of choice that has received the most attention so far and has been a key part of the government’s wider reform programme for improving quality and efficiency in the NHS in England.