Inadequate IT could scupper NHS cottage hospital plans

NHS plans for a £3bn "cottage hospital" building programme could founder due to its inadequate IT infrastructure, industry...

NHS plans for a £3bn "cottage hospital" building programme could founder due to its inadequate IT infrastructure, industry experts claimed this week.

Following the announcement that 150 diagnostic and treatment units will be built by 2005, former NHS trust chairman and IT policy analyst Roy Lilley said, "The NHS IT infrastructure is not ready for the addition of these units. They will be built a long time before the IT systems to support them are ready."

The first 30 diagnostic units will be advertised for construction next month. They are intended to take pressure off district and general hospitals by performing operations such as hip replacements and cataract surgery.

They will need state-of-the-art networks and processing power to enable access to electronic patient records and allow transmission of medical imagery such as x-rays and scans.

Even though the Government earmarked an additional £1bn investment for NHS IT in the last budget, Lilley claimed the cottage hospital building programme would need specific resources to modernise the NHS' IT infrastructure.

"The IT implications are very wide. To make use of all the latest photography and scoping equipment as well as electronic patient records means these sites will be dependent on the best in IT provision," he said.

"The danger is that modern medical methods will outstrip the IT strategy. IT provision to these units will need to form part of the overall IT plan for the NHS and that is far from finalised, with debates raging over the supplier platforms and objections to storing patient records electronically."

In a statement, the Department of Health said, "The new diagnostic and treatment centres will be connected to the NHS network and will have the appropriate broadband capacity to support their key activities and functions. Over time the key functions around diagnosis, booking and scheduling, test ordering and reporting, prescribing and digital imaging will be electronically enabled."

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