The NHS took a step towards greater broadband access last week when Wales health minister, Jane Hutt, officially launched the roll-out of a broadband network which will link all the service’s organisations in the principality.

Supplied and managed by BT, the service is up and running and delivering improved e-mail and web services. Within a few months facilities for video conferencing and imaging applications will be available and an NHS directory service for Wales will also follow on.

The network provides up to 1,000 broadband connections to link Wales’ 550 GP practices, hospitals and home workers across the country.

Ms Hutt said at the launch event, "A review of our telecommunications in 1999 revealed that despite leading the way in the UK there were some limitations including:
 Not everyone was connected;
 Those who were connected often had to share network links with others;
 There was no appropriate provision for members of healthcare teams who need to be mobile, such as District Nurses.

"It was clear that the current telecommunications networks required a significant increase in capacity and needed to improve its coverage. Work has already been done. Already all trusts have successfully transferred to the new system and approximately 230 GP practices have connected to the system.

She added, “This move is not optional for the NHS – it is vital. This renewed infrastructure holds the key towards transforming clinical life and also transforming the patient’s experience within the NHS. With colleagues in the NHS, Health Solutions Wales and BT, we are leading the way in Wales in using the new technology. We are getting connected.”

Swansea GP, Ian Millington, said, “For GPs it has become easier and faster to access such things as test results and NHS information services for information about treatments or new research. At the end of the day, it is a tool that will help deliver improved quality of care and real benefits for patients.”

Chief executive of BT Retail, Pierre Danon, said, "There has been much talk about extending broadband capabilities throughout the UK and this kind of contract illustrates very well the real benefits that the technology can yield in key areas like the health service.”