The 10-year scheme, which is the largest IT project in Britain, had been priced at just over £6bn. But the Department of Health has now said that it will actually cost between three and five times as much -- suggesting the final bill could top £30bn, according to reports.
The revelation has led to concern that money could be diverted from patient care to cover this additional cost.
The NHS National Programme for IT will create an electronic booking system for patients, followed by an electronic patient record scheme. This will allow doctors to access a patient's records from anywhere within the NHS -- be it their local surgery or a hospital.
The Department of Health was prompted into its revelation by a report in Tuesday's Computer Weekly, which claimed that the IT-led modernisation of the NHS would cost at least £18.6bn, and that local health trusts would have to carry much of the financial burden.
Health minister John Hutton said on Tuesday that the NHS would not have to carry an "unsustainable financial burden", and claimed that some of the cost estimates floating around are just speculation.