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A future in which patients could be alerted to changes in hospital appointments via text messages and other popular form of electronic communication was outlined this week by chief executive of the Office of e-Envoy’s e-delivery team (EDT), Alan Mather.

Speaking to Computing magazine, Mr Mather, whose name is rumoured to be on the head hunter’s shortlist for the new NHS IT Director General’s job, described how the EDT was developing software that would provide electronic alerts for the public. These would cover not only health services, but also events such as floods and court appearances.

A flood warning service which enables householders to register for alerts by providing their postcode, is already being tested and could be in place in 12 months.

It is envisaged that the alerts will be delivered within two years and that further developments, due to be available in 2004, will allow citizens to set up change or cancel appointments electronically for services such as driving tests or hospital appointments.

However, Mr Mather added a caution that, while the software for the services would be ready for 2004, adoption will depend on the speed of roll-out of electronic services in different government departments.

”Some departments will do it quicker than others,” he told the magazine.