Health department attacks Computer Weekly exposé

The Department of Health has attacked coverage in Computer Weekly of a "Snomed" project to introduce a medical coding system for...

The Department of Health has attacked coverage in Computer Weekly of a "Snomed" project to introduce a medical coding system for the NHS.

Last week Computer Weekly reported that some clinicians have rejected Snomed - a system that will underpin electronic patient records - which lies at the core of a £5bn government plan to radically reform the NHS by improving IT systems.

The article was based on an internal report produced by the NHS Information Authority, dated 27 January 2003, which said senior clinicians in some key areas of hospital work had found that Snomed (Systemised Nomenclature of Medicine) was unsuitable for use in the NHS.

The aim of Snomed is to allow diagnoses, treatments and medical problems to be given short electronic codes that enable data to stored, retrieved and analysed quickly. It has been described as a "common language of health".

Responding to the article, the Department of Health said, "Despite the recognised difficulty of this sort of task, the Snomed CT [clinical terms] project was completed on time and to budget. This gives confidence in the ability of the NHS to successfully deliver complex national projects."

Officials denied that Snomed would cost £100m to implement. They said it had cost $9m (£5.5m) to combine the US Snomed product and Read Codes - a similar system developed in the UK.

Referring to the disclosure in Computer Weekly that a limited review of the system by UK clinicians had uncovered 836 flaws, the department said, "There are over 1.3 million concepts and relationships in Snomed and in an endeavour of this scale, for its first release, the number of issues [836] is remarkably low at this stage of a major project."

Computer Weekly stands by its article and plans to publish a detailed response to the department next week. Meanwhile, its campaign to scrutinise NHS IT spending has been welcomed by a range of health and IT industry bodies, including the British Medical Association, the NHS Confederation and the BCS, as well as IT managers from across the NHS.

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