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Wednesday, April 28, 1999 Published at 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK


NHS IT strategy slammed

Electronic patients' records should speed up care

NHS trusts have been criticised over the way they have managed a £152m information strategy.

The 1992 plan includes proposals to give every patient an identification number to allow easier retrieval of records, a move to allow the transfer of electronic patient information between health authorities and GPs and the development of electronic records.

Information technology is a key plank of the government's strategy for improving access to the health service.

Sir John Bourne, head of the National Audit Office, says the 1992 Information Management and Technology Strategy contained a good vision and basic principles about how IT could improve patient care.

However, it lacked coherence, direction and proper evaluation.


Sir John concluded that:

  • trusts' plans lacked overall aims and direction in implementation
  • While the NHS Executive set aims for individual projects, no specific ways of measuring whether these had been met were contained in their plans
  • The Executive did not have a coherent idea of how all the different trusts' strategies fit together
  • The impact of the strategy was unclear because trusts were not always sure about the purpose of their projects
  • The Executive had not yet fully evaluated the impact of key projects.

A revised 1998 strategy, launched in September, was an improvement on the 1992 plan, said Sir John.

It provided greater coherence, but there were still some problems.

He said the strategy's objectives and targets should be more specific and measurable.

And he called for greater evaluation of the plans and idenfication in business cases of how individual projects linked up.

Sir John said it was difficult to calculate the cost of the revised strategy, but added that the government expected to spend more than £1bn to support it.

The Department of Health welcomed the report and its acknowledgement that the 1998 strategy was an improvement on the 1992 version.

It said it would take into account the suggestions about implementation, monitoring and evaluation made about the 1998 strategy which aimed "to transform the way the NHS provides care".

"It will help provide faster and more convenient care, to a uniformly high standard, with services matched to the needs of individual patients rather than institutions," said a statement.

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