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GP's online referral scheme in UK 'a national IT disaster'

The Government promised in June last year that every patient referral from a GP in England would go through a computerized 'choose and book' system by the end // of this month.

But ministers have admitted that in November - the latest month for which figures are available - barely 2.7 per cent of referrals were booked this way.

The Department of Health figures show that between October 2004 and September 2005, about 9.9 million referrals for an outpatient appointment were made by GPs - an average of 822,000 a month. In November 2005, just 21,969 bookings were made through 'choose and book'.

The national IT program for the NHS has been plagued with problems since inception. It was revealed last year that the Department of Health had estimated the total costs of the programme at up to £31 billion, of which only £6.2 billion will be met centrally.

According to leaked e-mails from NHS IT chief Richard Granger, the failure of 'choose and book' to deliver on time was in danger' of 'derailing the programme'.

A National Audit Office report earlier this year found that 97 per cent of GPs said the Department of Health had not communicated sufficiently on the timetable for the introduction of e-booking through 'choose and book'.

According to Andrew Lansley, the Conservative's health spokesman who obtained the figures from the Government, it was another Government IT program 'disaster'.'So far this reform has been costly, unworkable and has failed to deliver for patients,' he said. 'The system is not user-friendly and it is plagued by software problems.

The Government did not consult the GPs adequately before rolling out the program. It had been warned about the problems months ago, but nothing was done, he said. 'We need greater transparency about the costs and the problems to ensure the system works for GPs and patients,'he added.

In October, Nigel Crisp, the CEO of NHS was forced to admit that the syst em was 'running about 12 months late'.


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