NHS scheme lacks realism

Doctors have attacked plans for a national patient booking computer scheme costing at least £70m as lacking in realism.

Doctors have attacked plans for a national patient booking computer scheme costing at least £70m as lacking in realism.

Tony Collins

Consultant epidemiologist Rory O'Conor said the project "could end up like the Dome".

Their views, submitted to the NHS, will add to the concerns of NHS IT managers and directors who say that proposals for a national booking scheme, procured either centrally or by regions, will be another health service computer disaster.

The booking scheme is described in a draft Strategic Outline Case from the Department of Health's National Patient Access Team.

The accompanying memo dated 23 January says that a "final submission to government" on the scheme will be made in "early February".

The document favours a national or regional system or service that enables patients to pre-arrange their appointments with consultants rather than accept the dates given to them by the NHS.

"I remain sceptical about a nationally procured central booking system," said Paul Cundy, chairman of the GPs' IT sub-committee at the British Medical Association.

"What is the point of getting an online booking confirmed within milliseconds when the appointment will, in all likelihood, be for 18 months hence?

"This whole idea is pointless unless hospitals and trusts have availability," added Cundy.

O'Conor said, "We should not lose sight of the very great complexities involved in scheduling the millions of health service encounters each year.

"Each encounter may well have numerous dependencies involving staff, investigations, transport, language and not be quite as simple as an airline ticket or parcel transport

"The Strategic Outline Case should not be pushed forward without clear support from sufficient stakeholders, who include health service management, clinicians, patients and IT directors.

"Politically-driven technological initiatives that are not robustly grounded in reality are liable to go the same way as the Dome".

An NHS spokesperson said that no final decision on a national system or service had yet been taken.

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