All 30,000 of Britain's GPs are to be issued with a personal computer so that much of their minor work can be conducted without having to actually see patients. Health ministers believe the pounds 50m "Desk-Top Doctor" initiative, to be announced later this month, will cut down on thousands of appointments made for repeat prescriptions and everyday illnesses such as colds.
GPs will be taught how to check by computer where hospital beds are available. The technology will also allow them to e-mail prescriptions directly to chemists so that they are ready for collection in advance, and to send the results of tests, such as ECGs, over the NHS intra-net to specialists.
The NHS computers, which will be brought in later this year, will also inform GPs of the latest updates on health scares, vaccinations and treatments and enable them to hold electronic conferences on how to treat rare illnesses and outbreaks of diseases such as meningitis. Doctors will in future also communicate daily on-line about how to co-ordinate national strategies for epidemics.
The computer investment follows demands from GPs groups for help in cutting down their workload. Ministers also have instructed civil servants to create a computerised National Library of Health.