Launched this month, the UK Council for Health Informatics Professions (UKChip), aims to raise standards by developing recognised qualifications and career paths for 30,000 IT professionals working in health.
Glyn Hayes, president of UKChip, said the body would help to improve standards of care for patients and improve the poor image of IT in the health service.
Its creation follows concerns that patient care may have suffered in the past when IT had been poorly implemented.
"There have been major incidents, such as one highlighted by the London Ambulance Survey where an official report found that people died because of poor IT. There have also been examples where people have received the wrong radiotherapy doses," said Hayes.
Many IT practitioners in the health service have no formal qualifications but have learned on the job. UKChip will initially accredit them by assessing their academic qualifications, employment history and length of service. In the longer term it aims to work with universities and other professional bodies to create qualifications and examinations.
"The intention is that if you want to work in the NHS, you will have to become a member. NHS bodies are already including this in their job specifications and by 2008 it will become a statutory requirement," said Hayes.
Hayes believes that a professional body will improve the standing of IT staff in the health service. A survey by the NHS Information Authority two years ago found that the poor image of IT in the NHS contributed to a job turnover rate among health IT staff of 40% a year.
UKChip has the initial backing of the NHS Information Authority, the BCS and the Association for ICT Professionals in Health and Social Care, but will eventually become self-financing. During the first 10 days since the body was created, 500 IT professionals have signed up for membership, currently priced at £20 a year.
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