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NHS to scrap £356m outpatient booking system

Warwick Ashford

NHS England is to scrap its £356m Choose and Book outpatient appointment booking system, despite it being regarded as of the few successes of the failed £12.7bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

The system was introduced from 2005 to enable patients needing an outpatient appointment to select, with their GP, a hospital appointment at a convenient date and time.

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The aim was to speed up the process and cut out the need for costly paperwork.

But now Choose and Book is to be replaced by an e-Referrals system within five years, according to the latest report on waiting times for elective care by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The move is regarded as yet another example of failed NHS efforts to introduce efficient IT systems.

According to the PAC, not all hospital appointment slots are available to be booked on the system and that only half of all possible GP-to-first outpatient referrals are being booked on the system.

MPs said the system is under utilised because many patients found it complicated and time-consuming, and it has consequently failed to deliver promised annual savings of up to £51m.

The report said the new system should reduce the number of data errors and allow patients to track and manage their hospital appointments.

However, the report said that, given the difficulty NHS England has had in getting GPs and others to use Choose and Book, the PAC is “sceptical” about its ability to achieve full utilisation of e-Referrals. 

According NHS England, the e-Referral system will use different technology, but it has not disclosed how much the scheme will cost, according to the Guardian.

The paper quoted Meg Hillier, a Labour member of the committee, as saying Choose and Book “has been quietly dropped, so quietly that even most of the NHS seems unaware”.

Tory MP and former GP, Sarah Wollaston, said the system suited patients who were good with technology but not those who were less so, while doctors often did not have time to log on during appointments.

She added that technology could have drawbacks and cautioned against inadvertently widening health inequalities by introducing systems using the latest technology.

Una O'Brien, the permanent secretary at the department of health, told the PAC that the e-Referrals system will have additional features, and will be available on mobile devices.

The department of health is considering making it compulsory for GPs to use the replacement system and introducing an incentive and penalty scheme for doctors and hospitals.

More on NHS NPfIT


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