Aidan Halligan, deputy chief medical officer and director general of strategic development for the National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT), has declared that his ultimate goal is to make connections between “clinicians, patients and the totality of health and social care resources” in a "community of knowledge".

“Connection is at the core of our vision for the NHS,” he writes in ‘Patient Power – the impact of choice on the future NHS’, published yesterday by New Health Network. "At the human level… at the technological level, our goal being to deliver a common core of quality assured knowledge to professionals and patients at the point of need."

Halligan also emphasises the importance of electronic patient records, and also calls them the “core” of future plans. “Ultimately we envisage a record that will be able to communicate with every kind of medial device, so that a patient’s complete record can be securely viewed.”  This will mean that patients will enjoy "a smoother, more seamless journey through the healthcare system, fewer visits and fewer mistakes."

Dr Tom Coffey, chair of New Health Network, agreed, but said that GPs themselves were crucial connections in the process of IT reform in the NHS: "Their role remains pivotal to the delivery, commissioning and signposting of health services."

“Over the past 10 years the increase of IT usage among GPs has gone up,” he told E-Health Insider. "If I compare past usage of it to what I do now, there’s a lot of difference."

He asserted that patient choice could “only be delivered within an effective IT system. This policy initiative isn’t going to work without substantial change.” He also warned that although GPs were enthusiastic about care records and new software, they needed choice too, and will exercise choice themselves if not consulted properly: "The risk is that GPs will just turn away and turn it off."

Halligan’s essay is one of eleven in the pamphlet, which also includes work by Dr Michael Dixon, chair of NHS Alliance, and Professor Carol Black, President of the Royal College of Physicians. It was published at yesterday’s conference about the impact of patient choice on health professionals, at which John Reid, Secretary of State for Health, spoke.

The book costs £15 and can be ordered from The New Health Network aims to promote modernisation in healthcare, and is supported by clinicians, management and politicians.