Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Choose and Book

(By Richard Holway 12.00pm 14th July 09) On 24th June I published a HotViews post - OGS publishes Gateway Reviews on NHS IT Programme – which ended with the words “I guess where we differed from others was in our belief that the aims of much of the NHS IT project were ‘worthy’ (we’ve never been a supporter of the ‘Choose & Book’ bit though) and that ultimately its successful implementation would be to all our benefit. And, bluntly, we are still of that view.”

This lead our friends (indeed now clients!) at Atos Origin to want to ‘educate’ me on the benefits of ‘Choose & Book’. Although the ‘Book’ feature was a part of the original NHS IT Programme, the ‘Choose’ bit was not. It was introduced on a ‘political whim’ – the worst of all things to do in a big public sector IT project! You will recall that Sema was awarded this part of the NHS IT programme back in 2004; just before they were acquired from Schumberger by Atos Origin. Choose & Book uses the Cerner Millennium system. Like the rest of the NHS IT Programme, it’s had its problems in terms of delays and glitches. There seems to be evidence that at least some of these problems were caused by the LSP providers; rather than Choose & Book – but that is a subtlety that is often lost on patients, GPs and Trusts!

But, where fully implemented, the system seems to be running pretty well from a technical viewpoint. Indeed, Christine Connelly whilst CIO for Health recently put forward Choose & Book as an example of the success of the programme. 54% of all new outpatient appointments are now booked through the system; reducing referral response from 25 to just 5 days. There is also evidence that, because patients are involved in the booking process, far more actually attend their appointments. (As many will know, that has been a major cause of wasted time and resources in the NHS)

I can also see that to ‘people like us’ with access to the internet and the ability to assess the options presented, Choose & Book can be a boom. Sadly, not everyone has such ability and resources. My own GP, for example, told me of the extra time this takes in his surgery explaining all the options etc to patients – whereas before it was a straightforward “I’ll refer you to Consultant X at Hospital Y who will be in touch with an appointment in due course”. Maybe if they had stuck with just the ‘Book’ bit for GPs, mine would have been a ‘happy bunny’ too.

Rather than being a constant critic of the NHS IT Programme, readers know that I am a supporter of its ultimate goal; it’s just the way we get there that I have criticised! But if Choose & Book is now regarded as a success, I’ll be happy to celebrate.

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