The National Programme for IT (NPfIT) has confirmed that EDS has been deselected from procurement competition for a national electronic appointment booking service.

Last Friday E-Health Insider exclusively revealed that EDS was no longer in the bidding for the prestigious e-booking contract, which will be one of the most high-profile elements of the NPfIT and a vital foundation of the Patient Choice agenda.

Despite subsequent press reports over the weekend, notably in The Observer, that EDS had withdrawn from the procurement due to the tough terms and conditions being demanded, the national programme categorically denied that that it was EDS that had walked away.

Instead a national programme spokesperson told E-health Insider, “EDS were de-selected. They did not drop out.” The de-selection of EDS leaves just two bidders in the race: Fujitsu and Schlumberger-Sema/Cerner.

The official spokesperson added: “There continues to be a number of formal processes and approvals to be undertaken and obtained leading up to the contract award. A formal announcement about the successful bidder will be made in the next three to four weeks.”

These formal processes and approvals are understood to include the Office of Government Gateway Reviews required for an investment decision from the Treasury.

The cost of the e-booking contract was originally estimated at £40-50m at the beginning of the national programme. However, the spokesperson declined to provide a current figure on the value of the contract to be awarded or details of the contract duration.

The spokesperson did reiterate though that the national programme will not be selecting a preferred bidder and will seek to keep the procurement competitive all the way down to contract award. “We don’t have a preferred bidder,” the spokesperson stated.

E-booking is intended to enable GPs to electronically book a patient’s hospital referral at a time and location of the patient’s choice, rather than having send a referral letter to the hospital and then wait for another letter back before letting patients know the date of their appointment with a consultant. It is estimated that the national system will handle 15m bookings a year after it goes live in December 2005.

The NHS Plan says that by 2005 patients will be able to choose their booking dates for all hospital appointments and admissions – though it does not specify whether the systems used must be electronic