Government in new online drive

The Office of the e-Envoy told Accountancy Age this week that as far fewer people than expected have used online government services, the next round of its emphasis will be to dramatically improve use.

‘The e-Envoy office is planning a major campaign in the spring to get people online. The Online Nation campaign will encourage people to try online services and if they already have, inform them about the wide range of things they can do online,’ said a spokeswoman.

Two-thirds of government services available online are information based, but between now and 2005 there will be more transaction based services which will increase use, according to the government.

A recent survey of 1,000 UK citizens found only 7% had contacted the local authority online over the year.

Mark Westaby, director at Portfolio Communications, which commissioned the survey, said a lack of understanding of the benefits of using the web to find information, pay bills and deal with local authorities could hold back e-government.

Westaby said e-envoy Andrew Pinder faces an uphill struggle in dealing with the slow take-up.

‘The government has a big job to do in education or the adoption of online services could take decades rather than a few years. If the government is investing £350m to put e-government in place it should put some money into informing people,’ he said.

The news came as the NHS signed a £168m deal with BT to link GPs and hospitals with broadband internet connections. According to the BBC, the high-speed network is part of the NHS modernisation programme, which includes booking patient appointments online, making patient records available to all healthcare staff and the electronic transfer of prescriptions.

A spokesman for BT Retail said the upgrade is one of the largest within the public sector. The aim is for doctors to take advantage of the network to perform online diagnoses using imaging or video-conferencing.

It could also mean smaller hospitals will be able to treat patients locally, using online experts to guide them.

A spokesman for the NHS Information Authority, which runs the NHS network, said the deal will mean a more streamlined health service. ‘NHS networking has grown at a phenomenal rate over the past year, demonstrating healthcare professionals are making the most of the modern communication tools to access and share information quickly,’ he said.

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