An updated IT strategy for the NHS in Scotland has been launched which aims to cut the 10m pieces of paperwork exchanged between GP practices and hospitals in Scotland.

The new strategy will be supported by £2m in new funding for next year, on top of the £50m already committed over three years.

The investment is intended to ensure more staff have access to IT and step up the implementation of IT initiatives throughout NHS Scotland including the Electronic Clinical Communications Implementation (ECCI), which is already receiving £11m of Executive funding.

By 2003, ECCI will be in place throughout Scotland, electronically linking GP surgeries and hospitals. The programme includes electronic booking of hospital out-patient appointments by patients and their GPs, through the GP surgery.

The ECCI programme will also support electronic exchange of test requests and results between primary care and hospitals, and allow discharge letters, summaries and clinic letters to be sent to GPs electronically.

Scottish Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm said the extra £2m investment in IT will enable better access to a patient’s medical information for doctors, nurses and patients, and address historic variations in IT across NHS Scotland.

"In hospitals it will enable systems to be put in place which will allow doctors and nurses to access key information about their patients when they are still with their patients," said Chisholm.

In GP surgeries, the money will be used to accelerate efforts to introduce a modern appointments and patient record system. From 2003 GP referral letters will be sent electronically to hospitals, and booking of hospital admissions from GP practices will begin

"Overall, it will help us create a more efficient and effective NHS for patients and staff alike, making the best use of 21st century technology for 21st century care," added Chisholm

Of the £50m already committed to investment in IT initiatives for NHS Scotland some £31m has been allocated to NHS24, the Scottish version of the NHS Direct nurse-led health information service.

A further £11m is being invested in ECCI to implement a programme of delivering clinical email, electronic referral and discharge letters, test results and appointments.

ECCI Projects are now under way in each NHS Board in Scotland and the facility to exchange information electronically is scheduled to be available in each NHS Board area by 2003.

A sister project – Electronic Transmission of Prescriptions (ETP) is underway in Ayrshire and Arran Primary Care Trust, which is piloting the sending of electronic prescriptions from GP practices to pharmacies

Some £9m is also being invested in the development of Scottish Care Information (SCI) programme to develop software standards and services to implement ECCI and help develop Electronic Patient Records and Electronic Health Records.