The National Programme for IT (NPfIT) has launched two new consultative groups to help shape the future direction of the programme. Healthcare professionals will be represented through the National Clinical Advisory Board (NCAB), while patients will have a voice through the Patient Advisory Board (PAB).

With the first contracts for the national programme now only weeks away from being signed, the two new groups will help to determine how systems will be used. The groups will also consider issues such as patient confidentiality and consent, and help shape future iterations of integrated care records services (ICRS).

Although the NPfIT has consulted with clinicians and seconded a number of others in developing specifications for ICRS and other aspects of the programme, this has mainly been limited to discussions with the Royal Colleges and involved a couple of hundred of individual clinicians to date.

Professor Peter Hutton, chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, will chair the NCAB, which consists of 30 branches of the health service, including GPs, consultants, nurses, dentists, health visitors and pharmacists. In an interview with E-Health Insider Professor Hutton stressed that the group was for all health professionals.

Professor Hutton said: “We want to develop robust and vigorous channels through which we get feedback and buy-in from health staff. Their support is vital to this programme.”

Marlene Winfield head of patient involvement with the NPfIT told E-Health Insider that involving patients is “a very important challenge for us to rise to.”

Ms Winfield stressed the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds included in the PAB would help ensure that patients, carers and the public had a say in the way new services are set up and used. Groups involved in the PAB include the Patients Association, the Long-term Medical Conditions Alliance, Help the Aged, Mind, Mencap, Carers UK and the Consumers’ Association.

“They will advise us on how best to consult, involve and communicate with patients, carers and the public to ensure the new services give them maximum benefit. And they will give us their own thoughts on how things should be done. They are certainly not here just to rubber stamp our ideas,” said Ms Winfield.

She added that the views of patients had already played a significant role in shaping the programme, specifically in determining the confidentiality management systems the national programme will use. “The confidentiality consultation is a model of how we want to work in the future.”

The NCAB is intended to provide a mechanism for more detailed and structured input into the future development of the programme. Initially the committee will meet once every three months, but will establish a number of sub-committees to carry out work. Early issues to be examined include patient identification, confidentiality and consent.

Professional bodies and organisations included in the membership of the NCAB include the Royal Colleges, the NHS Confederation, the BMA, CHAI, the GMC, The Allied Health Professionals Forum, The Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association and the NHS Tsars.

Asked how local clinicians could feed into NCAP, Professor Hutton explained that they could either contribute using their professional body, or through new regional consultative networks to be established in each of the five ‘clusters’ Local Service Provider (LSP) contracts will be awarded for. “We would hope they [LSPs] will set up groups representing all NHS staff to develop support and local ownership.”

Professor Hutton added: “We are engaging in very new types of consultation with the public and the professions. We don’t know all the answers all of the time and we are saying that. This is a new approach.”

Poor communications and a failure to consult widely with clinicians and other NHS staff have been persistent criticisms of the NPfIT since its launch. NHS IT director-general Richard Granger has previously stated that effective communications and detailed consultation were initially traded for speed to rapidly mobilise the programme.

The consequences of this policy were highlighted in a July 2003 poll conducted by medical research specialist Medix UK. It found 81% of the 1,000 consultants and doctors surveyed said they did not possess adequate information on the national programme, and almost 7% said they had never heard of it before.