The NHS in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales were each approached and subsequently turned down the opportunity to participate in the £6billion National Programme for IT (NPfIT), a Commons select committee has been told.

As a result, hospitals in England treating patients from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland face the prospect of having to maintain paper-based systems for these patients for years after they have introduced fully electronic patient record and booking systems.

In evidence to the Commons Health Select Committee on 20 May health minister John Hutton revealed that the devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had been offered the opportunity to participate in NPfIT.

Jon Owen Jones MP (Labour, Cardiff Central) asked Hutton why they had not taken up this offer. Hutton replied: “They were not able to proceed on the same timescale we were able to proceed."  The minister volunteered no further clarification.    

Jones went on to highlight the problems this would cause patients from Wales being treated in England, pointing out that Welsh patients being treated in border hospitals, such as Chester, would not have access to an electronic record.

He asked Hutton whether the different approaches on health IT being taken by England and Wales would also mean that hospitals such as Chester will need an IT-based appointment system and a duplicate paper-based system for the foreseeable future.

“Yes, I think that is likely," said Hutton.

Jones asked whether the other national groups in Britain would eventually be using the same IT system.  “I hope so,” replied Hutton, but conceded that he couldn’t guarantee this. “It is devolution," he said.

The NPfIT was described by Hutton as “the most important development in the NHS", and is the biggest civil IT project in the world.