NHS IT: Lib Dems promise major surgery

Connecting for Health, Choose and Book and centralised medical records on the chopping block
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor on

Connecting for Health, Choose and Book and centralised medical records on the chopping block

The Liberal Democrats have said they will scrap a central part of the £12.7bn NHS IT revamp - if elected to government.

A Lib Dem policy paper, published last week, said if the party wins this year's General Election it will scrap the agency overseeing the NHS IT revamp, Connecting for Health, scale back the Choose and Book hospital appointment system and stop the creation of centralised medical records for patients in England.

The NHS IT revamp - known as the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) - has been heavily criticised for delays to the project to create centralised medical records for patients in England, which is running up to four years behind schedule.

The policy paper said: "In the UK, not only is the national IT programme running years behind schedule...it is failing to deliver the gains from IT seen elsewhere. The overall impression is of strategic confusion."

It said the project to create centralised medical records "has encountered enormous technical challenges", "and has raised serious concerns about the confidentiality of patient records".

The paper suggested the NHS should let individual hospitals choose the computer systems that suit their local needs, as opposed to the current arrangement where hospitals have to accept one of two systems chosen by the Department of Health that will be compatible with a centralised medical record.

However scrapping the centralised electronic medical records project could prove costly - the two suppliers currently delivering the NPfIT have only been paid a fraction of the value of their contracts - which are worth more than £6bn in total.

Cancelling work the suppliers are expecting to get paid for could leave the NHS having to make penalty payments.

The Lib Dem's acknowledge this but say they are confident that "variations to contracts could be negotiated to achieve the desired objectives".

The paper also claims that some patients using Choose and Book to book a hospital appointment are not being offered the hospital or specialist they want because the waiting list is too long at their first choice hospital.

A Lib Dem administration, if elected, would remove the ability for patients to choose their hospital from the Choose and Book, so it became a "simple online hospital booking system" and let patients choose the hospital where the appointment would take place by liaising with their GP.

The Lib Dems also want patients to have access to their electronic medical records and allow patients to choose who else has access.

A spokesman for the British Medical Association, the doctor's union in the UK, said: "It is important that any change in direction for NHS IT is driven by the needs of patients rather than being simply a money-saving exercise.

"Future development must be also done with the full consultation of the healthcare workers that will be using the systems."

A spokeswoman for Connecting for Health refused to comment on the policy paper.

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