The Government's call for the creation of a common national technical infrastructure across the health service has been warmly welcomed by both health service IT professionals and IT suppliers.
The NHS is committed to the standards laid out in the Government's Interopera-bility Framework, including the SMTP standard for e-mail and XML for messaging.
However, many NHS IT applications, costing hundreds of millions of pounds, will be rolled out using legacy technology over the next two years.
NHSNet is based on the X.400 protocol and hundreds of thousands of NHS staff will be added to the system before 2003, when the existing network contracts expire and SMTP protocols become standard. SMTP is already used in many hospital systems.
Similarly, the Government has given an unequivocal commitment to XML standards, although the NHS is pushing ahead with a major roll-out of Edifact, an electronic data interchange system for pathology messaging, based on 25-year-old technology.
The issue of conflicting standards does not stop with the NHS. The Government is reshaping health and social services with the creation of primary care groups, which will require the integration of NHS and local authority IT systems.
The longer it pushes ahead with deployment of legacy technology, the more difficult its task will be.