The rollout of the NHS' £64m electronic 'Choose and Book' appointment booking system is a year behind schedule, the government has admitted.
The e-booking system is a key part of the £6.2bn NHS IT programme and will allow patients to choose from at least four hospitals when booking an outpatient appointment through their GP surgery.
The government had pledged to offer patients the e-booking service by 1 January, 2006, but NHS chief executive Sir Nigel Crisp told MPs at a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing this week that while patients will still be able to choose which hospital they go to most appointments will have to be booked manually by GPs.
Although the technology behind the system is up and running just 20,000 appointments have been made and Crisp told the PAC that rollout to GPs and primary care trusts is "running about 12 months late", according to the Financial Times.
He said that large numbers of e-booking appointments are now unlikely before December 2006.
The British Medical Association also told the PAC hearing about its concerns that the booking system will add too much time to consultations as GPs go through the referral options with patients.