Tories pledge to 'dismantle' NPfIT

If elected, the Conservatives plan to decentralise the NHS IT architecture, and halt and renegotiate NPfIT contracts

An incoming Conservative government would fundamentally alter NHS information technology systems, according to plans revealed on Monday.

If elected, the party would "dismantle Labour's central NHS IT infrastructure" and instead use local systems for local areas, the Conservatives said in a statement to mark the launch of a review into IT use at the health service.

In addition, contracts signed under the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) will be halted and renegotiated.

The Tories also reiterated their commitment to open standards, saying local systems should be "rigidly interoperable". Open source use will also be encouraged.

"There is huge potential for the NHS to harness the power of technology in bringing about change," said Tory leader David Cameron in the statement. "As patients, we want to know we're getting the best possible care; as taxpayers, we want to know we're getting value for money: technology, well-applied, can create opportunities for both in a decentralised NHS."

The plan also includes a push to put patient records online, and to introduce the use of third-party patient-record applications. Currently, the NHS has a centralised online patients' records system called HealthSpace.

In the NHS IT review, commissioned by Conservative shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien, the report's authors compared Microsoft's HealthVault with Google Health for potential use in the UK health system. Both applications are not available to British citizens, and have been designed for the US market.

"There is some scope for HealthVault to be used beneficially in the NHS, and the product currently demonstrates more worth than Google Health which, in the US, is primarily deployed as a mechanism for personalised advertising," stated the report.

However, Google said Google Health did not run adverts.

"Google Health is free to anyone, much like other Google products we offer," said a spokesperson for the company. "At this time, we have no plans to host ads in Google Health. Our business goal is to offer a valuable service to our users, and drive brand loyalty and more searches on, where we make our money on advertising."

In addition, the report's authors believe that while Google Health is "relatively simplistic", HealthVault has greater privacy and security safeguards, including a feature that lets patients see who has accessed their records.

Microsoft said that while it had no timeline for launching HealthVault in the UK, it had talked to interested parties about how that launch could be achieved.

"We're pleased that this area is being looked at seriously in the UK, as we believe strongly in patient empowerment," said Mark Treleaven, healthcare strategic marketing manager for Microsoft UK. "We have seen huge benefits in the US and, while the healthcare system is different, patient needs are the same."

Microsoft's products could be changed to comply with local privacy, security and regulatory requirements, and "to regional nuances of the clinical community", Treleaven said.

Conservative think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies put out a report at the beginning of July which recommended that patient records be moved online using services such as HealthVault and Google Health.