The 11-strong Health Committee of the House of Commons has been to Nashville in the USA and Canada's capital Ottawa to learn more about electronic patient record systems, as part of their inquiry in aspects of the NHS's £12.4bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT].
They spent a week on their fact-finding tour. A smaller number of MPs on the committee later visited Homerton hospital in East London to see the Cerner Millennium system in action. Some of the committee's MPs also went to the headquarters of the Department of Health, Richmond House.
Kevin Barron, chairman of the committee, was particularly struck by what he saw as the success of Homerton's system. Homerton's Cerner implementation was outside the NPfIT although it now forms the basis of Care Records Service implementations throughout the South of England and London. The Care Records Service is at the heart of the NPfIT, the aim being to make a database of 50 million electronic patient records available to authorised clinicians
Homerton's contract dealings have been directly with Cerner, though other trusts must deal with Cerner through Fujitsu, the local service provider for Southern England, or BT, the local service provider for London.
After visiting the US, one of the Health Committee members, Labour MP Ronnie Campbell, said that the government should look at giving each region its own computerised health record system rather than seeking to set up a national scheme.
He said that creating a network of separate regional IT schemes, which could communicate with each other, could rescue the NPfIT.
Backbencher Campbell said MPs from all parties on the group were impressed with what they saw in the US and Canada.
He said: "In Nashville they were a lot further ahead than we were. It's a private medical insurance system over there, and each company is setting up its own computerised record system. But they have taken care that all the individual insurance firms system can talk to each other so the records can be moved around quickly.
"The Canadians are doing something similar but it's not quite so advanced. I think we might be better to set up smaller regional systems for the North-East, The North-West, the South-West, Scotland and the other regions and countries rather than go for a huge national system.
"If the systems could talk together like in the US, that would have the same effect as a national system but be easier to set up. My worry is that if we go for a national system for 50 million people, it might just be too big and not work.''