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A high-powered taskforce has been assigned to tackle problems with the overdue care records system, the core element of the troublesome £12.4bn National Programme for IT.

The reputation of the national care records system was undermined in last month's House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on the NHS programme. It found development had been rushed without proper consultation with patients and clinicians.

The Department of Health said in a statement yesterday that the task force would address "outstanding issues and concerns" and aid the introduction of the first phase of the care records system in 2007.

It would "identify and look at the concerns of patients and the clinical profession about the creation of the summary care record," it continued.

It would then draw up an implementation plan for a summary care record with Connecting for Health, the government agency in charge of the Programme. This would be reported in November.

The DoH statement said that on the current timetable for the introduction of care records the pilot would start to run in "early 2007". A "wider roll out" would occur in 2008.

The last official word on the timetable for care records was given at last month's PAC hearing. Then scheduled for late 2006, they were already running two years late. This had been blamed on suppliers having "difficulty in meeting the timetable" and clinicians wanting to see the system piloted.

Professor Peter Hutton, who had been a clinical advisor to the Programme, told the PAC hearing that the problems with the care record had been overlooked by a National Audit Office investigation into the Programme.

"The report fails to emphasise that key decisions were taken in the early period without proper clinical input," he said.

Hutton added that the consequences of a lack of proper consultation with clinicians in the early stages were still having a "major impact" on the Programme.

Richard Granger, director general of IT at Connecting for Health, told the hearing that the Programme had in the last 18 months developed a "more stable long term structure" for patient and clinical engagement.

Lord Warner, health minister, stressed in yesterday's statement the importance of the clinical records system. "We owe it to patients to do it as soon as possible," he said.

The taskforce is being chaired by Harry Clayton, national director for patients and the public at the DoH. It will consist of two British Medical Association chairs, an executive director of quality at Ealing PCT, and bosses of the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of General Practitioners, the Terrence Higgins Trust, the college of emergency medicine, an ethics professor from Oxford and a patient advocate.®

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