Better information, better health

James Herbert, Director of External Affairs, NHS Connecting for Health outlines the National Programme for IT

Providing modern, integrated IT systems to the NHS is the vision of the National Programme for IT.

Once fully installed, these systems will connect over 500,000 doctors, nurses and other health professionals and support them to deliver the best possible patient care.

This will mean a more efficient health service with improved patient safety and protection, faster treatment and information available when and where it is needed.

NHS staff will have secure access to upto- date, accurate information for the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients.

Gone will be the days of lost medical records and paper chases between GP surgeries and hospitals. In time, patients will also be able to see a summary of their own electronic health information.

The National Programme for IT is being delivered by NHS Connecting for Health, an agency of the Department of Health.

One of the key projects in the National Programme is the NHS Care Records Service, which will provide electronic records for England’s 50 million patients. For the first time ever, information will be shared safely and securely across the NHS and every patient’s record will be available to care professionals, no matter where a patient is being treated.

A major element of the NHS Care Records Service is the NHS Summary Record, which will contain important aspects of a patient’s care, such as current and regular prescriptions and any allergies.

NHS Connecting for Health has now invited primary care trusts to participate in early adopter implementations of the NHS Summary Record, with preparations underway and live running planned for early 2007.

The early adopters will be the first to implement the NHS Summary Record and will help NHS Connecting for Health capture feedback and learning points for the national implementation and roll out across England.

Other key programmes being implemented by NHS Connecting for Health include:

  • Choose and Book - This is the new electronic booking service. Patients referred to a specialist can choose between four hospitals or clinics at a date and time suitable to them. By 18 September 2006, 1,225,795 bookings had been made in this way.
  • Picture Archiving and Communications systems (PACS) - 50 per cent of trusts in England are now using PACS technology for storing and viewing digital x-rays and scans.

Images are available at the touch of a button and can lead to speedier diagnosis and results. There are now more than 60 million images created and stored using PACS systems across the NHS.

  • Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) - Roll out of the Electronic Prescription Service is well underway. This service allows prescriptions to be sent electronically from GPs to pharmacies, making prescribing and dispensing safer, easier and more convenient for patients.

Over five million prescription messages have been transmitted using the electronic prescription service.

  • N3 - N3 is the national broadband network underpinning and enabling the applications of the National Programme and linking NHS IT systems and organisations across England to ensure safe and secure transmission of information and data.

More than 15,000 sites and some 97 per cent of GPs are connected to the network, potentially benefiting around 48 million patients.

Compared to previous local NHS IT networking arrangements, it is estimated that N3 can save the NHS £900 million over seven years. When roll out of N3 is complete it will be one of the largest virtual private networks in the world.

  • IT support for GPs - NHS Connecting for Health is also supplying a number of systems to support GPs.

The Quality Management and Analysis System (QMAS) was completed in August 2004 and has over 28,000 regular users across nearly 9,000 GP practices.

Millions of people change GP every year and at the moment are unable to have their records transferred electronically to their new surgery. GP2GP record transfer will make this possible and will be an extremely valuable service for both GPs and patients.

Deployment of the GP2GP v1.0 software to 500 GP practices is planned to be completed by the end of March 2007. To date, two live trials have taken place, transferring records between surgeries with InPractice systems and surgeries with emis systems.

The GP2GP team are working on this project in conjunction with the General Practice Committee and the Royal College of General Practitioners through the Joint GP IT Committee.

  • NHSmail - NHSmail is a free email and directory service that is secure enough to allow the exchange of clinical information and fully endorsed by the British Medical Association.

Another benefit is that the email address will remain with the NHS employee throughout their NHS career.

When roll out is complete, NHSmail will have more than one million users and it will be the largest private, secure, singledomain email service in the world.

However there is much more to implementation success than the installation of new Information Technology systems and technologies. Technology is the enabler.

People are at the heart of the NHS IT programme. Our aim is that NHS staff make the most of these technologies to make a real difference to patient healthcare experiences.

The National Clinical Leads are our team of clinical champions, out and about in the NHS community, engaging, listening, and feeding back ideas and suggestions to help us meet our goals as efficiently as possible.

In the last six months they have taken part in more than 32 NHS events and since January 2006 they have had a total of 58 one-to-one meetings with professional bodies.

Clinical engagement is vital to the successful delivery of the programme and to date, NHS Connecting for Health has hosted 1,573 reference panels, advisory committees, design groups, demonstrations and other events attended by over 20,000 clinicians.

So how are we doing on the ground? Progress to date is broadly what would be expected of a large and complex programme. Some things have gone well, others less so.

Large and complex programmes encounter issues and difficulties and the National Programme for IT is no different.

Each acute hospital patient administration system is equivalent in scale and complexity to a modern system roll out across a Government department of several thousand users.

NHS Connecting for Health is supplying systems like these every week to support a variety of care settings and over the next ten years, will transform the way the NHS works.

Quietly and steadily, the programme is rolling out and making a positive difference to the working lives of clinicians, NHS staff and most importantly the patients.