"Doctor doctor, I hear you've got broadband?"
BT and Cable and Wireless have both won major contract extensions from the NHS Information Authority, which controls much of the IT expenditure for the UK's health service.
There will be upgrades - worth a total of £45m - to NHSnet, meaning every GP will get at least a 256Kbps fixed line connection, while Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities will get 2Mbps pipes by March next year. Higher-speed network infrastructure is also expected to be rolled out in 2004.
Electronic transfer of prescriptions between GPs, hospitals and pharmacists, e-booking, e-records and distance learning are some of the key benefits the telcos promise to deliver to the organisation.
C&W, which already connects 4,000 NHS sites, did not put a figure on the value of the upgrade. BT presented the upgrade as part of a wider £168m deal with NHS Information Authority (NHSIA).
There are now 645,277 NHS email addresses according to the Department of Health - far from one for every NHS employee - yet the number of messages sent is increasingly rapidly. In October 2002 the number hit 106,864,555, up 40 per cent from August last year. An organisation-wide email system is currently being rolled out by the NHSIA and EDS (see http://www.silicon.com/a56740
Dr Gwyn Thomas, NHS Information Authority chief executive, said in a statement: "NHS networking has grown at a phenomenal rate during the past 12 months, demonstrating that healthcare professionals are making the most of modern communication tools to access and share information quickly. The upgrade will undoubtedly improve the service currently available and will deliver considerable benefits to clinicians and patient care."
Further details can be found at http://www.nhsia.nhs.uk/nhsnet/pages/connecting/bandwidth/upgrades.asp