The Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has issued a consultation document on developing integrated IT systems that sets out how it plans to use information and communications technology (ICT) to provide joined-up health and social care.

The proposals are aimed at introducing fully ICT-enabled health and social care. Key elements of the proposals are developing electronic care communications, electronic care records, and access to online.

The draft ICT strategy is expected to cost £120m with running costs of £15.5m a year.

Issued by Health, Social Services and Public Safety Minister, Bairbre De Brun, the proposals are open to consultation until October.

"When implemented, these proposals will bring the benefits of e-business right to the heart of health and social care where easy access to essential information and effective communications can make a real difference," said De Brun.

At the heart of the strategy are two major linked programmes – electronic care records and electronic care communications.

Electronic care records are envisaged as containing structured data, text and images generated from a variety of sources and accessible whenever and wherever there is a ‘legitimate’ need. The integrated records would be particularly valuable when care is provided by care networks involving a range of professionals, locations and organisations.

It is envisaged that electronic care records will be made up from pulling together data from general practice systems, community systems and hospital systems. The strategy recognises that developing such records represents a major challenge.

The second key strand of electronic care communications is used to cover almost all aspects of communication of care information between different providers of health and social care. The aim is to use ICT to support communication of all aspects of care data and general communications.

The strategy also includes linking GP practices to HSSnet, the Northern Ireland version of NHSnet, to provide access to electronic pathology and radiology results and access to appointment booking, extending access to ICT services for care professionals working

"People using the services will see that care professionals can always access their records when they need to and that their care is planned and organised quickly and conveniently, taking into account up-to-date information on services available and best practice," said De Brun.

The NI Executive hopes to have the programme completed by 2010, if the necessary resources are made available.