Not one NHS Trust will meet its target for implementing online patient booking, according to a leaked email.
Online news service E-Health Insider has published details of a email from Margaret Edwards, director of access at the Department of Health, acknowledging that none of the 302 Primary Care Trusts in England will be able to claim a £100,000 payment for having half of their GPs using the system next month.
According to the Department of Health the Choose and Book online system for outpatient hospital appointments has had few users.
Only 8,000 patients have been booked through the system in 14 months, despite a target of 250,000 by December 2004. Millions of appointments are made manually each year.
The targets are all the more urgent as GPs and patients will gain entitlement to book at four or five hospitals of their choice by the end of 2005.
GPs have criticised the online system, complaining that it is slow and difficult to use, and does not integrate with their patient record systems. Many hospitals have also failed to make appointments available online.
GPs are also forced to use a web-based version of the system due to delays in implementing the complete system. This means they have to re-enter patient data each time an appointment is sought.
Strategic health authorities had said that 80 per cent of bookings would go through the system by December this year. But experts suggest that such a statement is wildly optimistic based on recent uptake figures.
Problems have been apparent since the beginning of implementation. The National Audit Office said in January that the system would miss its deadline for implementation, and criticised the speed at which the network of support systems were being put in place. The full NAO report can be downloaded here.
Family doctors at the British Medical Association's annual conference for GPs in July voted overwhelmingly to oppose the system as it is currently designed.
Sema Group is acting as the contractor for the Choose and Book system.
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