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The National Audit Office (NAO) said last week that it is investigating the multi-billion-pound NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

The spending watchdog said that it will look into how the contracts have been awarded, as well as whether they represent the best value for money. The value of the contracts placed so far has topped £6.2bn over a seven to ten year period.

The government wants all patient records to be stored electronically by 2010, to make it easier for the various areas of the NHS to share patient data, make referrals and write prescriptions. Richard Granger, the NHS IT director general, says that patients will start to see the benefits of the investment by 2005.

However, the NPfIT is a controversial project. GPs have complained that they have not been consulted enough during the planning stages, and have raised concerns over patient confidentiality. Privacy and security experts have warned that the security of the system has not been properly addressed.

At the British Medical Association conference in June, GPs voted not to back the project until these concerns have been addressed.

The NHS says that it welcomes the NAO's investigation, and that it is right that the project should be evaluated at this stage. The NAO, meanwhile, says the investigation is perfectly routine, and does not imply it is worried about progress of the project.

The NAO says it expects to publish its full report in the summer of 2005.

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