NAO says NHS IT system will miss deadline

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The electronic Choose and Book service, which is being developed as part of the £6bn National Programme for NHS IT, has been held up by technical problems.

According to the NAO report published this week, the system had only processed 63 bookings by December 2004, rather than the predicted 205,000. Sources close to the project say the system functions, but the hospital systems it needs to work with have not been upgraded.

The NAO says progress has been made, but warns of a lack of engagement with GPs. ‘Choice cannot be delivered without support from GPs but our survey found that around half of GPs know very little about it and 61 per cent feel either very or a little negative,’ says the report.

‘The department has deliberately held back its effort to inform and engage GPs until it has had a working ebooking system to show them, but it intends to mount a campaign to inform and engage GPs during 2005.’

Questioned in the Commons on Tuesday, health minister John Hutton said progress was slower than expected, but the targets for patient choice would be met.

‘This is the biggest civil IT programme anywhere in the world,’ he said. ‘To suggest we would have been able to implement it without any technical problems or hiccups would be fanciful.’

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