NHS minister backs XML

Antony Adshead

Health minister Gisela Stuart told the NHS Information Authority's first national conference this week that £1bn of...

Antony Adshead

Health minister Gisela Stuart told the NHS Information Authority's first national conference this week that £1bn of government IT investment would help turn the NHS into a "patient-centred service" run on e-commerce lines.

However, the planned update of the NHS Information Authority's strategy document, originally due out in October and then promised for release at the conference, failed to materialise.

Some parts of the original strategy, launched in 1998, are being rolled out.

Stuart announced a live pilot of the National Electronic Health Library and said a database of patient NHS numbers was now available online to NHS organisations.

The National Electronic Health Library is aimed primarily at healthcare professionals and gives free access to widely-used subscription-based resources.

At the conference, Dr Muir Gray, programme director of the National Electronic Health Library, said, "The proper use of computing will be as important as the human genome in bringing about patient choice in clinical procedure and the health of the population."

Stuart threw down the gauntlet to NHS organisations, telling them that the practice of letting individual hospitals pick their own IT equipment had to change. It makes sense to use economies of scale to get better value for money, she said.

The minister also weighed into the debate over government inter-operability standards and the use of XML standards throughout the pubic sector.

NHS e-mail was moving from the X.400 standard to SMTP, said Stuart. She added that XML would be used for NHS messaging rather than Edifact, an electronic data exchange format.

In a sign of the potential conflicts to come the NHS Information Authority said ahead of the conference that it was rolling out early-adopter packages of its key pathology messaging system in Edifact to 14 health authorities.

Other announcements at the conference, attended by 600 NHS IT professionals, included the NHS Strategic Tracing Service, a definitive database of patient numbers and administrative details which covers more than 60 million GP patients.

This is seen by the authority as a building block towards a full electronic health records system.

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