Deputy chief medical officer, Aidan Halligan, has joined the National Programme for IT, taking personal responsibility for delivering clinical engagement and for realising the benefits of improved decision making, quality of treatment and patient safety.

The appointment was announced by health minister, John Hutton, on the opening day of Healthcare Computing 2004 in Harrogate. Dr Halligan will be the joint "senior responsible owner" leading the national programme.  He will share the responsibility with director-general for IT, Richard Granger, who will be in charge of IT and the project, programme and contract management that will put the new systems, services and operations in place.

Hutton also announced that the National Programme Board will have a new chair, John Bacon, group director of health and social care delivery at the Department of Health.  He said the three appointments addressed the forthcoming retirement of Sir John Pattison, the department’s director of research, information and analysis whose foresightedness in initiating the national programme was praised by the minister. Granger, Halligan and Bacon will all report to NHS chief executive, Sir Nigel Crisp.

Hutton praised Granger and the national programme team.  "Many people said the procurement timetable was undeliverable.  Those people were wrong.  We have done what we said we would do."

He said the £6.2 billion awarded in national programme contracts over the past few months was a lot of money but that an excellent set of agreements had been reached.

He outlined improvements in NHS staffing numbers, waiting times and cancer survival but declared: "It will be IT that holds the key to progress on safety, choice, convenience and equity."