NHSnet has suffered a number of serious outages in recent weeks causing the NHS Information Authority to issue an explanation.
Localised problems with the network have occurred in Scotland and the north east of England for periods of up to 48 hours. Access to the Internet through the network has been unavailable and e-mail services have been slow, according to GPs using the network.
The NHS Information Authority will issue a statement explaining the difficulties and outlining a solution before the Healthcare Computing 2000 conference starts in Harrogate next week. BT, an NHSnet supplier, refused to comment before the event. Meanwhile Cable & Wireless said the problem was due to high demand.
The problems come as GPs are offered a new deal for NHSnet connection. Under the deal, GPs will have no call charges for connecting to the network, but will be offered a bandwidth of 64Kbps rather than the 128Kbps connection previously offered.
Practices may have to pay for additional bandwidth, although routers and firewalls will offer up to 2Mbps without local charge.
Paul Cundy, chairman of the GP's IT subcommittee at the BMA, welcomed the move to cancel call charges, which were discouraging GPs from joining the network. He said the reduced bandwidth would be sufficient for most GPs, as few useful applications were currently on the network.
At the end of 1997 the Government said it would connect all computerised practices to NHSnet before 2000 - a deadline which was abandoned because the medical profession had problems with the network's performance, security and cost.