The Department of Health (DoH) is to appoint an IT director to strengthen central control of technology strategy in the NHS.
The IT programme director will be responsible for implementing the new NHS programme Delivering 21st Century IT support across the NHS, which plans to improve on the ageing and fragmented infrastructure of the health service.
The new programme will launch in April 2003. The DoH said a greater share of new funding for the NHS would be spent on IT, but has yet to finalise details.
"One of the important features of the national programme for IT in the NHS is the shift to more corporate, national approaches. For the purposes of health records, this means a national approach to procurement and implementation," said the DoH.
Electronic patient records, electronic prescribing and the electronic booking of appointments are seen as the "critical national commitments" under the new programme.
The programme will set national standards for data and IT in the NHS, and develop a new procurement strategy to speed IT improvements. The IT director will also have to improve partnerships with the IT industry and healthcare IT suppliers.
The national programme, which will also improve IT training, will be subject to the Gateway process with the Office of Government Commerce.
Launching the strategy, Health Minister Lord Philip Hunt said greater central control over the specification, procurement and implementation of IT was needed.
"With proper planning and direction as well as the increased IT investment, clear national standards for IT systems and a streamlined procurement process, we will be able to move up a gear and significantly accelerate the pace of IT development across the NHS."
By March 2003 the DoH wants all clinical and management staff to have access to the NHS network to enable email, directory services and web browsing, and ensure the electronic transfer test results.
The DoH said there would be "significant" new funding in place to improve NHS infrastructure by December 2005, to provide broadband access to 128kbps or greater to all clinicians and support staff, and an increased bandwidth of2Mbps across NHSnet gateways.
A national NHS directory service, with access and authentication for all staff, is also to be developed.
And by 2008, electronic patient records should be available at all NHS trusts.
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