Very substantial progress has been and continues to be made in implementing the national programme for information technology.
Of the key centrally funded programme projects, the first elements of the NHS care records service—to provide a transaction messaging service, a personal demographics service, a spine directory service and secure access controls via smartcards—went live on time and to budget in July 2004. The software to support the Choose and Book electronic booking system is complete and went live on time and to budget, also in July 2004. The software to introduce the quality management and analysis system (QMAS) in support of the general medical services contract went live on time and to budget in August 2004 and was fully rolled out within three months, supporting payments to 100 per cent of general practitioners (GPs) under the quality outcomes framework (QOF) every month since. The software to allow electronic prescriptions to be issued went live on time and to budget in February 2005. The rate of connections to the new national broadband network (N3) remains, ahead of schedule, and 98 per cent of general practitioner practices now have a broadband connection. NHSmail was implemented on time in October 2004 and currently has over 230,000 registered users sending 1 million e-mails per day.
The National Health Service has already become a digital organisation that is dependent on IT delivered through the national programme for the diagnosis and treatment of patients. So, for example, the first picture-archiving and communications system under the programme was implemented in April 2005 and 69 systems have now been implemented, and around 160,000 patients are treated each week using the technology. Over 38 million patients can now benefit from Choose and Book, and over 2.54 million bookings have been made to date, with daily bookings now exceeding 18,000. Over 11.8 million prescription messages have been issued electronically, with the daily count exceeding 85,000.
There is no single national start or completion date for the programme as a whole, or for its individual systems and services. The aim is to achieve substantial integration of health and social care information systems in England under the national programme by 2010.
The value of contracts let for the core components of the national programme for information technology, which is being delivered by the department's NHS Connecting for Health agency, amounts to £6.2 billion over 10 years. The National Audit Office (NAO) has calculated that the full gross cost of the programme including national contracts and legitimately approved additions, other central expenditure and local implementation costs is some £12.4 billion at 2004-05 prices. However, this figure does not take into account anticipated savings in the price paid by the NHS for information-technology goods and services due to the central buying power of NHS Connecting for Health, or in NHS staff time saved through using the programme's systems and services. The NAO also acknowledges an independent evaluation that confirms that £4.5 billion has been saved by central rather than local procurement, and a further £860 million of savings achieved through centrally negotiated enterprise-wide arrangements.