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A big week ahead for NHS IT watchers

It may play host to more technological whizzkids and software megacorporations than rank and file GPs, but Pulse will be keeping a weather eye on next week’s Healthcare Computing Conference & Exhibition in Harrogate.

By Steve Nowottny

It may play host to more technological whizzkids and software megacorporations than rank and file GPs, but Pulse will be keeping a weather eye on next week's Healthcare Computing Conference & Exhibition in Harrogate.



With the myriad of NHS IT projects currently underway – plus the imminent national rollout of the Summary Care Record – developments in Harrogate are likely to have an impact on every practice.

These are troubled times for Connecting for Health, the body charged with overseeing the National Programme for IT. On the one hand, real progress is being made in some areas. Choose and Book looks finally to be getting off the ground, thanks in part to PCTs deciding to fund local incentive schemes, whilst the GP2GP rollout is continuing well.

But progess on the flagship project, the Summary Care Record, has slowed to a crawl. And whilst the series of data security breaches this winter were nothing to do with Connecting for Health or shared electronic records, mud sticks, and to many patients the idea of a centralised Government records database seems less appealing than it once did.

The £12.6 billion question though, for the hugely ambitious/expensive national programme, is how long the political will to support it will last. Things have been very rocky for the upper echelons of the Connecting for Heatlh hierarchy lately.

Richard Granger, who led the organisation for the past five years, left in January, while Richard Jeavons, head of service implementation, and the Department of Health's interim chief information officer Matthew Swindells have this month both announced they are to follow suit.

Even more worryingly, the Department of Health's Informatics Review is still pending – and according to the Health Service Journal ‘is expected to contain strong criticisms of the general informatics programme to date.'

And with Pulse's revelation this week that the Summary Care Records evaluation will not be completed until 2010, and a general election to come, the long-delayed Tory review of NHS IT suddenly becomes that much more signification.

Big questions, then. Last year at Harrogate, Connecting for Health was the elephant in the room after officials pulled out at the last minute.

This year, despite his imminent departure, Matthew Swindells is still due to open the conference with his keynote speech. GPs and software megacorporations alike will be waiting for some convincing answers.

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