Choose and Book - some unanswered questions

GP Mary Hawking, a knowledgeable critic of aspects of the NHS’s National Programme for IT, has pointed out that, in this blog’s coverage of a speech by Health Minister Lord Hunt to the Harrogate healthcare IT conference, we failed to mention her questions to the minister.

She asks a good question about the NPfIT Local Ownership Programme. The scheme makes chief executives of strategic health authorities, primary care trusts and hospital trusts responsible for the success or failure locally of the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT].

Mary Hawking asks what Whitehall is devolving to the NHS under the Local Ownership Programme. She then asks whether what is being devolved is “ownership of IT or only the responsibility for enforcing CfH diktats?” CFH is NHS Connecting for Health, an agency that is in charge of the NPfIT.

She also asks about the Personal Demographics Service which underpins the creation of an electronic care record for every NHS patient in England. The Service allows doctors and nurses to search a database of patient names and addresses.

She makes the valid point that if the addresses and home phone numbers of patients or GPs are marked on the Personal Demographics database as concealed because of their sensitivity, how can these patients and their GPs make online hospital appointments – since some hospitals will accept bookings only if they are made using Choose and Book which draws on information in the Personal Demographics Service database?

Mary Hawking says: “What provision is being made for patients who have labelled themselves as “sensitive” on the Personal Demographics Service (i.e. their addresses, home phone numbers and registered GP concealed) and therefore cannot make Choose and Book appointments when the local hospital Trust(s) e.g. Milton Keynes and soon Bedford – will only accept Choose and Book referrals?”

Choose and Book is a part of the NPfIT that allows GPs and patients to book hospital appointments online. At the moment most of the bookings are made over the phone but they involve the use of NPfIT systems, in part.

Hawking adds: “It does seem like poor co-ordination of CfH programs: the need for some patients to conceal their demographics (think Huntingdon Life Sciences) is in the original documentation for the Personal Demographics Service – even though GPs (who have to do it) haven’t been told, as yet, how it is done.”