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EDITIONS
 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 09:26 GMT
Deal to bring broadband to NHS
Doctor taking part in an operation on the internet
Technology can have massive benefits for doctors
Shorter waiting times and more efficient patient care are promised as the health service in the UK moves towards broadband.

In a 168m deal with BT, the NHS will improve its infrastructure to link hospitals and GP surgeries across the UK to a fast internet connection.

The high-speed network will underpin the NHS modernisation programme, which includes booking patient appointments online, making patient records available to all healthcare staff and the electronic transfer of prescriptions.

The deal follows Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement in November to bring broadband every GP surgery and school in the country by 2006.

Sharing resources

Healthcare professionals are making the most of the modern communication tools to access and share information quickly

Dr Gwyn Thomas, NHS Information Authority
According to BT Retail's Chief Executive Officer Pierre Danon, this upgrade is one of the largest within the public sector.

"This technology will make GPs and hospitals more efficient and effective and will allow them to give a far better service to patients," he said.

Patients who normally have to wait weeks to see a specialist might see times slashed as doctors take advantage of the network to perform online diagnoses using imaging or video-conferencing.

It could also mean smaller hospitals will be able to treat patients locally, using online experts to guide them.

Experts in a particular region will be able to share their knowledge with a whole range of hospitals and care centres the government hopes.

Dr Gwyn Thomas, Chief Executive of the NHS Information Authority, which runs the NHS network, said the deal will lay the foundations of a more streamlined health service.

"NHS networking has grown at a phenomenal rate during the past 12 months, demonstrating that healthcare professionals are making the most of the modern communication tools to access and share information quickly," he said.

Network no solution

Doctors need to see fewer patients and the network can not arrange for that,

Dr Adrian Midgeley, Exeter GP
Critics have pointed out that a fast network may not in itself be enough.

"Networks do not replace hips," said Exeter GP Dr Adrian Midgeley.

"Speeding up the network is ignoring the real problems of why appointment systems don't work which is about persistent gridlock in the NHS."

"Doctors need to see fewer patients and the network cannot arrange for that," he added.

Dr Midgeley has found his high-speed connection very useful but is worried that further improvements to network speed are a smokescreen to the fundamental problems within the UK health service.

Hurdles such as a lack of useable software and joined-up thinking among health professionals will not be solved by a fatter pipe to surgeries, he said.

He was particularly scornful about plans to use online consultations.

"It is a total fantasy that dermatologists or other specialists are just sitting around their offices waiting for us to go online with them," he said.

See also:

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