Competition will drive down NHS IT costs, say Conservatives

The Conservative party is to reveal plans to cut NHS IT spending by scrapping the government's...

The Conservative party is to reveal plans to cut NHS IT spending by scrapping the government's planned central database for medical records.

The Conservatives' plans are based on an independent inquiry commissioned by the party to examine why the NHS's national programme for IT (NPfIT) is not delivering.

The party's plans include allowing patients and NHS Trusts to choose which service provider will store medical records and make them available online.

The data will be safer in the hands of private companies such as Google, Microsoft and others, shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien told the BBC.

They are more likely to be better protected by companies that will want to ensure they serve patients' interests than a massive central database with associated security risks, he said.

According to O'Brien, no single service provider will be awarded a contract, but patients and NHS Trusts will be able to choose among competing providers of interoperable services.

This approach will take advantage of existing systems rather than ploughing taxpayers' money into developing new systems from scratch, he said.

The £12bn NHS programme in England, which aims to replace hundreds of different data systems, has been dogged by problems since its launch in 2002.

But the government has defended the programme, saying patients are already benefiting from several new facilities, such as online booking of appointments and an electronic prescription service.

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