EDS contract cancellation could hit NHS-wide directory service

The national programme for IT in the NHS could face problems delivering a core part of the infrastructure for modernisation after...

The national programme for IT in the NHS could face problems delivering a core part of the infrastructure for modernisation after it terminated a £90m e-mail and directory services contract with EDS last week.

"There has been a low take-up of the services and therefore the contract is not delivering the value hoped for," a spokesman for the national programme told Computer Weekly. EDS is considering legal action in response.

EDS was contracted in May 2002 to develop a national e-mail system for all 1.2 million NHS staff, as well as an online calendar and a directory essential for identifying staff who use the system.

A national directory is central to the introduction of an electronic appointment booking service, which is due to go live this summer, as well as to the electronic transfer of prescriptions and other medical data.

The national programme currently has three directories of staff: the McKesson Electronic Staff Records systems (based on Oracle HR); the National Care Record Service and what remains of the EDS e-mail system.

It now faces a challenge in linking the three directories, which could potentially share information on staff, monitor access to patients and support secure electronic appointment bookings and prescriptions.

Paul Goss, director at healthcare analyst Silicon Bridge, said, "An urgency to introduce IT has led to a lack of joined-up policy."

The national programme said that, on the advice of lawyers, it was unable to answer questions about the directory.

In a document updated in January 2004, the NHS IT Authority described the NHSmail e-mail system as "the first application to use the directory", and stated that the security the directory would provide would allow it to authenticate staff to ensure patient confidentiality.

NHS trusts were only given until 31 March to provide the national programme with data on their staff with which to populate the directory, a task some industry observers believe is too complex and costly to undertake without additional help.

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