A further 45 electronic booking programmes are to start as the NHS gears up to meet its target of making all hospital appointment booking electronic by March 2005, health minister John Hutton announced today.

Speaking at a conference held to celebrate the achievements of the five ‘Enterprise Communities’ already experimenting with electronic booking, Mr Hutton said, “We need to replace the uncertainty and inconvenience of the present system with a different approach which enables the patient to decide where they should be seen.

“Electronic booking is leading the way in a radical reform of the NHS’s relationship with patients. It allows patients to become active participants in their own healthcare and it gives them a choice of when and where they’ll be treated.

“Electronic booking also helps hospitals and clinicians organise their working times more effectively by making better use of the latest technology.”

The conference, staged by the National Booking Programme,
heard that the pioneering communities in Manchester, Dorset, north west London, south east London and West Yorkshire had chalked up some notable achievements including:

• Significant reductions in the number of steps needed in the booking process between GPs and acute trusts;

• Facilities for GPs to book appointments directly for patients needing treatment for specific conditions such as hernias and cataracts;
• Systems that offer patients the facility to book an appointment at the surgery and leave with a letter showing their appointment date and time;
• A contact centre system in Manchester which provides a central referral point for patients to call, discuss their referral options and decide where and when they will be treated.

Successes outside the enterprise communities were also reported including a scheme in Northampton which reduced non-attendance rates for a plain film X-ray service from 20% to zero when a direct booking service operated by GPs was introduced.