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Reaches computer milestone

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Connecting for Health has chalked up a success in the roll-out of its £12.5bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

Every hospital in London and the South areas of NPfIT has installed the Picture Archive and Communications System (PACS) made available under the programme.

Connecting for Health (CfH) pushed the boat out to explain how good this was for patients and hospital trusts.

CfH wasn't so open that it was able to make direct cost comparisons between its PACS system and those being sold to trusts outside the programme by independent vendors. Neither could it say how much of the cost of a typical implementation was being shouldered by CfH and how much was being put by local trusts - a matter of some controversy for the programme in the past.

Nevertheless, Dr Mary Barber, PACS programme head at CfH said the average time it took from hospital scans and x-rays being done to the time they were available for patient diagnosis had been halved on average.

In the case of Salisbury Trust, time had been reduced from nine days to one day, though the typical time for such a procedure across all hospitals with PACS would now be somewhere between 2.9 and three days instead of six.

Robin Evans, clinical radiologist at Mayday Trust in Croydon, said at a private press briefing hosted by CfH that before PACS 10 per cent of all images wouldn't be present at the time of treatment, which could lead to mistakes in diagnosis.

They are now available around the country, whenever a doctor needs to see them. In one recent case, said Barber, a doctor in Nottingham was able to stop a child going through unnecessary surgery after using PACS to pull scans from the system in Derby where the child had last been seen.

Forty-three hospitals already had PACS systems before CfH was given the job to install them across the UK in 2003, using a range of multinational and home-grown suppliers. The first system went in last March. Eighty-three trusts and 250 hospitals have been given PACS systems designed under NPfIT in London and the South. Another 46 trusts around the country have put in CfH-managed PACS systems developed by GE Healthcare. An unspecified number of trusts have opted to implement systems independent of CfH.

Late already, PACS implementations will not now be completed in other regions until the end of the year. Delays were caused after CfH withdrew its contract to supply IT systems from Commedica, and by contractual differences with Fuji, said Barber.

The total cost of the PACS to the NHS under NPfIT was estimated to be £200m to £250m, with the cost for each implementation being between £2m and £10m depending on the size of the hospital.

It had cost Mayday Trust £2m, said Evans, which would be recovered in material and process savings over eight years, but he was unable to say how much of the capital cost had been put up by Connecting for Health and the Strategic Health Authority. ®

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