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Focus on e-booking could disrupt entire IT scheme

There will need to be a strategic reprioritisation across the health service's national programme for IT (NPfIT) to focus on delivering the government's Choose and Book system, according to a leaked e-mail from NHS IT head Richard Granger.

Choose and Book, which aims to give patients and GPs the ability to book appointments from a choice of hospitals, is a priority for ministers but is only one element of the NPfIT.

In a leaked e-mail Granger referred to the Department of Health's need for belated changes to the Choose and Book system, such as an internet interface and links to private hospitals. 

"We will of course do our best to accommodate these requirements. Strategic reprioritisation will need to be undertaken across the programme as a whole, for example, deferral of electronic transmission of prescriptionsÉ to focus on Choose and Book." He added, "Adverse media coverage is unavoidable."

Granger also said his team had delivered on schedule major software upgrades that were requested belatedly. "Choose and Book's £20m IT build contract is now in grave danger of derailing (not just destabilising) a £6.2bn programme," he said.

But Richard Bacon, an MP on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, has questioned whether Choose and Book could derail the entire NPfIT. He said the system represented only a small part of the total costs of the NPfIT.

If Choose and Book, as one component of the NPfIT, could derail the wider programme, he said the design of the scheme as a whole might be flawed.

Bacon also questioned whether the e-mails meant that the "blame game has started in earnest".

A spokesman for Connecting for Health, an agency of the Department of Health which is delivering the IT systems within the NPfIT, said, "We do not comment on leaked correspondence, but there is no question of the programme being derailed."

In another leaked e-mail, Gordon Hextall, chief operating officer at Connecting for Health, disclosed that there has been a "reprofiling" of the spine release programme. The data spine, which is being delivered by BT, is a key component of the NPfIT and is designed to help deliver national electronic medical records.

Hextall said a contract change note on the spine had been signed with BT, and Connecting for Health was entering negotiations with local service providers.


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