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NHS dismisses claim of IT security glitch

The NHS has vehemently denied a report that trials of software giving patients greater control over their appointments have been halted because of security concerns

The National Health Service reacted strongly on Monday to allegations that its massive IT upgrade has been hit by security problems that threatened to compromise patient confidentiality.

The Sunday Times claimed this weekend that trials of a flagship project that allows patients to pick when and where they are treated, and by which medic, have been suspended.

According to the report, medical staff testing the "Choose and Book" appointments system had discovered that it allowed a doctor to view the medical details of any patient, and modify them. Choose and Book is an important part of the National Programme for IT.

But the NHS insisted on Monday that the pilot projects were ongoing, and accused The Sunday Times of "a most irresponsible piece of journalism".

"The Choose and Book project, part of the NHS National Programme for IT, has not been halted," said a National Programme spokesperson, who added that confidentiality and information security were top priorities.

"State of the art controls are being used to ensure that only the clinician directly involved in giving a patient care will be able to see their records. Even then the patient can chose to have certain sensitive medical information kept in so called "sealed envelope" which no clinician can access without the express consent of the patient," the spokesman said.

But The Sunday Times quoted a leaked memo that it claimed stated that doctors were refusing to take part in the trials, because of the "fundamental design flaws" in the project's software.

The NHS National Programme for IT has a controversial history. It is the largest IT project in the UK, and last month there were reports that its final cost could rise from £6bn to £30bn. Choose and Book has a reported budget of £65m.