Royal College of Surgeons slams NHS IT

The president of the Royal College of Surgeons has hit out at a cornerstone of the £12.7 billion NHS National Programme for IT.

Top surgeon John Black said Choose and Book, a system that allows patients to choose which hospitals they are treated in and book appointments online or on the phone, "purports to offer greater patient choice but ... has had the opposite effect".

Stating that GPs were the best-informed to advise on hospital choice, he said: "You may now select the hospital based on sets of centrally gathered statistical measurements, rather than the right doctor for you with professional advice and support from your GP."

The president of the health body wrote in an opinion piece on the BBC website that IT systems had "damaged" the relationship between doctors and patients.

"This trust is now being eroded by a system that has reduced healthcare to a factory production line where over-reliance on numerical targets and computerisation has broken down care into a series of procedures," he said. "I believe this is driving a wedge between patients and doctors in a way that is becoming detrimental to patient care."

He said that "using the latest technology to increase the efficiency of the health service and measure how patients' lives are improved is vital", but added that technology "must be sensitive to the individual patient and must retain personal professional judgement".

The Department of Health said in a statement that Choose and Book was an important part of improving the NHS and allowing patient choice. "Rather than forcing patients and their doctors apart, choice allows patients to be active participants in their healthcare alongside the guidance of their GP," a spokesperson said. "Choice has also helped drive up standards across the NHS in England."

Other projects under the National Programme for IT include the digitisation of all patient records on a central data spine, an electronic prescription service, and the digitisation of X-ray images. In December, NHS chief executive David Nicholson said the health service "can't go on and on" with IT roll out problems, following severe problems in the first London hospitals to roll out the patient record systems.

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