The first fruits of the £6bn technology investment in the NHS will be seen this summer, when electronic appointment systems and digital X-ray archives come online, according to the director general of NHS IT, Richard Granger.
Speaking at the Government UK IT Summit this week, Granger said patients would begin to see the benefits of the mammoth investment from this summer, with more improvements following over the next 18 months.
The electronic appointment system will begin rolling out this summer, he said.
The system will allow patients to book appointments with consultants at their convenience - while at their GP's surgery or from home - rather than have to wait for a letter from the hospital.
"This is a major change in the way we deliver health services, putting the customer first," said Granger.
It is expected that the booking system will deal with 15.5 million referrals this year. The system will go live in a few locations in England, and rolled out across the country over the next 18 months.
Other improvements in health services will include a system for digital X-rays and scans. The Picture Archiving and Communication System (Pacs) will also begin rolling out across the NHS this summer.
Pacs allows X-rays and scans to be stored and mailed electronically, speeding up dissemination and reducing the risk of X-rays getting lost. It will be deployed throughout the NHS by March 2006.
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