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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 12:16 GMT
Gates to partner NHS on IT
Bill Gates
Bill Gates is addressing NHS managers
Microsoft looks likely to be involved in developing electronic health records for Britain's NHS.

The records, which are the centrepiece of the government's strategy to upgrade the use of computers in the health service, will pass details about patient histories between GPs and hospitals.

Ministers intend that every NHS patient should have one by 2005, and is investing millions to make it happen.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is taking part in an NHS IT conference on Thursday, addressing hundreds of trust chief executives and sharing a platform with Health Secretary Alan Milburn.

The NHS has already struck a deal to supply nearly all its computers with versions of Microsoft's key business software, Office.

Microsoft fears

Now it is preparing to take part, alongside BT, and Cisco Systems, in the electronic health record project, nicknamed "Project Lightbulb".

There is likely to be some disquiet among enthusiasts for electronic health records - who would prefer that a commercial company did not "own" the source code for whichever system is adopted.

Dr Adrian Midgley, a primary care computing expert, said: "What we will get with Microsoft is a three-year lease on a health record we need to keep for 100 years."

Progress on NHS IT is painfully slow - the government is faced with hospitals and GP surgeries that use a wide variety of machines, operating systems and formats to store patient records, if they even have computers at all.

Millions invested

The new system has to bring together all this disparate information and produce a health record for each patient which can be easily transferred from location to location, for example if the patient changes GP.

So far, the government has published two separate information strategies - the first in 1998, the latest in January 2001.

Dipping into a 5bn modernisation fund, the government is committed to spend more than 100m this financial year, and more than double that in each of the two following years.

Among the other pledges is a national electronic booked patient appointment scheme, which the government says will cut delays for patients waiting to see consultants.

It is also creating a "national electronic library for health", which will contain reference information about diseases and treatments which doctors can access from their desktops.

See also:

25 Mar 01 | Scotland
NHS records 'could be hacked'
17 Apr 00 | Health
Doctors back NHS 'smart' cards
12 Apr 00 | Health
NHS warned on computer spending
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