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A National Programme for Information Technology (IT) in the NHS was launched in April 2002 to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the health service.

The programme, now four years into its 10-year plan, aims to change the way that the NHS uses information to improve patient care services.

Seen as one of the most ambitious of any healthcare IT projects, its ultimate goal is to connect more than 30,000 GPs in England to more than 300 hospitals and give patients access to their personal health and care information.

The new NHS systems being implemented through the IT programme include:
- NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) – to create an individual electronic healthcare record for every patient
- Choose and Book – electronic appointment booking
- Electronic Prescription Service
- National Network for the NHS (N3) – to provide online access to records and images shared between organisations
- Contact - NHSmail national email and directory service – an email address for all NHS staff.

NHS Connecting for Health is an agency of the Department of Health set up in April 2005 to deliver and implement the National IT programme.

The government says the benefits to nurses, doctors and other NHS staff include easy access to more comprehensive, up-to-date patient information; a fast, reliable and secure means of sending and receiving information; streamlining of clinical practice and smoother handovers of care; online decision support tools; easier access to best care pathways and faster access to specialist opinions and diagnosis; more efficient referrals; alerts to conflicting medicines; early detection of disease outbreaks; and reduced administration and paperwork.

The theory is fine, but the reality is different. Since it began, the national IT programme has not been an easy system to get going and is currently thought to be two years behind schedule and costing £12.4 billion.

NHS Connecting for Health is being implemented in five ‘cluster’ areas in England – all at different stages and managed by different companies. While some regions have set up IT systems that can be used by nurses, some are way behind schedule. By the end of April 2006, only two primary care sites and one A&E site in London had local service provider software.

Nurses have complained there was a lack of consultation with NHS staff when the programme was first being designed.

A RCN survey of more than 4,000 of its members on IT published in 2006 found that only 12% of nurses felt they had been adequately consulted when it came to NHS IT decision making, 69% had had no IT training at work in the previous six months, and many still struggled to get access to a computer at work.

Updated: September 2006

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