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August 10, 2009

Tories unveil online patient records plan

Centralised database to be scrapped?

By Steve Evans

The Conservative party has announced it will shift UK patient records online if it wins the next general election. Its plans include scrapping the government’s proposal to have a centralised database of patient records, part of the £12bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT) project.

The BBC reports that GPs and hospitals would store electronic medical notes locally and patients would have access to their records through the cloud. The data could be stored by Google or Microsoft, the report claimed.

As well as accessing their records patients would also be able to update their medical notes.

The Tories are also calling for an overhaul of IT provisioning within the NHS, enabling local trusts to choose their computer systems from a list of pre-approved suppliers, rather than one centralised supplier.

Talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said: “We want to give patients the ability to give themselves greater control over their information. If we hold the data locally it’s more likely to be protected than within this massive [NHS] database. There’s always a need to protect data, whether it’s in the public or private sector.”

The multi-billion pound project to modernise NHS IT systems has been beset by problems since its launch in 2002. It was due to be completed in 2010 by estimates now suggest that it is five years behind schedule. The cost of the project has ballooned from £2.3bn to £12.4bn.

The Conservative party believes that these plans will add much-needed cost savings to the project.

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Talking about the plans, Gayna Hart, MD and founder of Quicksilva, a company working with public and private organisations involved with the NPfIT project, said it is too far down the line to abandon now.

“The NHS Spine, the central IT database that is set to contain patient data, has already been created. To abandon it now would be a waste of considerable time and effort,” she said. “It is already enabling services that are driving major improvements to the NHS, such as Choose and Book; a national electronic referral service which gives patients a choice of place, date and time for their first outpatient appointment in a hospital or clinic.”

“Throwing money at a replacement would not help the NHS. Instead they need to promote the use of integration to absorb and update existing systems, which will reduce costs while improving services. A lack of consultation with these end users nearly scuppered the NPfIT before; we need to learn from the mistakes rather than repeat them,” Hart said.

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