Headlines: October 14th, 2003

Patients have doubts about the claims made by health service managers for the 2.3 billion pounds National Programme for IT. A survey of patients designed to find out their views, expectations and concerns revealed that there is real doubt about the capability of the proposed system. The patients simply doubted whether it would be possible for the NHS and new technology to cope. The survey also showed that patients overestimated the extent to which the NHS already works with electronic records. Respondents assumed that their GP record would, in future, be recorded on paper as well as electronically.The proposed system will create a basic health record for every patient and provide all the essential information anyone making health decisions about that patient needs to know. It will enable appointments to be booked instantly by computer, provide prescriptions and test results, including scans and x-rays, to be shared electronically and allow patients to know what information is being shared about them and who is seeing it. It will give patients control over what is shared. Eventually, patients will be able to view their records in their own homes via an internet link.

The contract to provide the National Electronic Booking System, the first element of the National Programme for IT, has been awarded to SchlumbergerSema. It will allow patients a choice of 4-5 hospitals once the GP has decided that a referral is required. These providers could include NHS Trusts, Treatment Centres, Private Hospitals and Practitioners with a special interest operating within primary care. The patients will be supported in their choice by a combination of the GP, Primary Care Team, Practice Staff and a Booking Management Service.

The system will connect more than 30,000 GPs to some 270 acute hospitals and community or mental health hospitals. The service will be introduced throughout the NHS in England with the first electronic bookings expected in summer 2004. Implementation of the national programme is expected to be completed by the end of 2005.

The survey also revealed that patients were concerned that access to their personal information should be restricted to a closely controlled sharing loop. They excluded the voluntary services from loop, as well as social services, employers and insurance companies. Some respondents expressed a distrust of social workers.