A new political consensus has emerged over the benefits of new rights for patients to choose their provider of elective health care in the English National Health Service. From December 2005, patients will be able to select from a number of alternative providers at the time they are referred for treatment. In the longer term, patients will be able to access care at any public or private provider that meets national quality and cost standards. The government intends that this policy will lead to improvements in the quality and efficiency of health care and will reduce levels of inequity among patients. Pilot schemes have shown that a majority of patients will exercise a choice of provider when this is offered. However, the policy of patient choice may involve significant costs to the NHS and may be more difficult to implement outside urban areas. Further, the information needed to support patients' choices is not yet available. Whether such a policy will increase or decrease levels of equity in the English NHS remains open to debate.