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Tories plan major NHS IT shake-up

NHS Patients could edit their own medical records via Google or Microsoft

OnMedica staff

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Conservative Party plans to allow private sector firms such as Google or Microsoft to store NHS patient records and for patients to have greater access.

Launching plans for a major shake-up of NHS Information Technology, Shadow Health Minister Stephen O’Brien today said every NHS patient would have a username and password and could update their records with information like blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Mr O’Brien promised huge cost savings for the NHS by scrapping government plans for a central database of patient records. Connecting for Health, the £12billion NHS computerisation programme in England, is the largest civilian IT project in the world but has suffered setbacks.

Although some parts have been implemented successfully, there have been problems in upgrading computer systems in hospitals and setting up the electronic patient record. It is thought the programme is some five years behind schedule.

The Tories are promising NHS trusts a choice of computer systems, rather than having a single one imposed.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the idea of more patient input into their own records was an interesting one already being looked at by the NHS.

It could be used by epileptics to record when they had fits or people with depression to identify triggers of their condition, helping clinicians, he said.

But Health Minister Ann Keen said: "The Tories need to make it very clear how their plans will ensure patient confidentiality.

"We have already set out our plans to give patients greater access to health information, for example through Healthspace where patients can see their summary care record."

Mr O'Brien told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We want to give patients the ability to give themselves greater control over their information."

He added: "If we hold the data locally it's more likely to be protected than within this massive [NHS] database...

"There's always a need to protect data, whether it's in the public or private sector.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Patients are now directly benefiting from the modernisation of NHS IT - including being able to make their first outpatient appointment through Choose and Book, new digital images and a new electronic prescriptions service."

He added that the programme was already being delivered locally, with "detailed care records" continuing to be held in an electronic form.

The government has made it clear to the companies contracted to deliver the upgrades that it expects further significant progress by the end of November.

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