The computer network being installed by the NHS could cost over £30 billion - five times the amount originally announced by the Government, it emerged today.

Politicians and health managers are reportedly concerned that patient care will be damaged if the rocketing cost of running the system comes out of local trust budgets.

The procurement price agreed by the Government was £6 billion but it is now estimated total implementation costs will be between £18.6 billion and £31 billion, according to the publication Computer Weekly.

The programme announced two years ago by former health secretary Alan Milburn was conceived as part of the Government's move towards patient's choice.

Under the new system records will be accessible to GPs, doctors and paramedics, and patients will have the right to book hospital appointments at their convenience.

A spokeswoman from the DoH said today: "It is generally accepted in the IT industry that implementation costs are some 3-5 times the cost of procurements and this is reflected in the business case that was made for the National Programme.

"While significant financial benefits will accrue from the National Programme, other benefits will be seen in improvements to NHS services, therefore improving patient care and safety.

She added: "By 2007/08, NHS spend will exceed £90 billion - up from £63.7 billion in 2003/04.

"The budget beyond 2007/08 has not been allocated yet, but over the 10 year period from 2003/04 we would expect total NHS spend to be around £1,000 billion.

"This means that the cost of the National Programme over the 10 year period will equate to between 1.5% and 3% of Trusts' expenditure."

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