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The British Medical Association is warning that the project to sort out the National Health Service IT system is risking failure by not engaging with doctors and other health workers.

Speaking at the eHealth conference in London yesterday Dr John Powell, chairman of the BMA's IT committee, said the NHS National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT) needed to learn lessons from history.

"The national programme must learn the lessons of other high profile public sector IT projects such as the passport office fiasco of 1999. Large-scale public IT projects do not have a good track record in the UK and so it is paramount that the NHS learns the lessons of history and engages with the frontline staff who will be using the new systems.

So far the level of engagement and consultation with the medical profession has been wholly inadequate."

Powell said doctors would welcome any system which provided real change. "We hope that improvements to IT systems will reduce the administrative burden on doctors so they can spend more time treating patients. This goal will only be realised if the national programme can provide systems that are at least as effective as those currently in use. Clinical staff must be consulted. There is no point investing billions of pounds in systems that do not have the confidence of users."

The NPFIT project includes plans to provide every UK citizen with an electronic patient record. The Department of Health has already smashed its own budget guidance. It warned in October that the final bill could be as high as £30bn.

A survey of GPs, carried out last month, found 75 per cent of them fear the project will be a failure.

More information on the BMA website here. ®

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