Shake-up for NHS computers

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The Independent Online
The trouble-strewn record of computing in the National Health Service will come under a far-reaching review next month, led by Frank Burns, chief executive of the Wirral Hospitals Trust in Cheshire.

Mr Burns, whose one-year secondment to the NHS Executive was announced yesterday, accepted that there have been several well-publicised computing failures in the NHS in recent years. But he is convinced that locally- based computer systems - introduced with the enthusiastic understanding of health care professionals - is the way forward.

"As far as clinical records go, most hospitals are still coping with paper-based systems. And the traffic of patient information between GPs and hospitals, thousands every day, is mostly by bits of paper carried by people in trucks," he said, and suggested that it would be better if those bits of information were carried invisibly over phone lines.

His concern will be to shift the focus away from over-arching nationally integrated systems - such as the pounds 100m Hospitals Information Support System (HISS), begun in 1988 - and towards systems designed for the local hospital level. "I would be disappointed if I can't make the rest of the NHS move towards this model," he commented, though he would not suggest a target date for making NHS records entirely electronic.

After 30 years with the NHS, Mr Burns, 46, begins his new job in June, taking over as head of the NHS's Information Management Group. .

As chief executive at the Wirral Trust, Mr Burns has overseen the launch in 1990 of an Electronic Patient Record system, which puts clinical records and data on to a single database within a hospital.It cost pounds 14m and is used by 3,000 staff, who have dealt with 80,000 in-patients, 250,000 outpatients, 90,000 accident and emergency cases and 250,000 therapeutic visits to clinics. The EPR system has been judged a success.