The largest provider of private hospital services in the UK has signed a deal for e-booking software that will be Choose and Book compliant.

BMI Healthcare, which has 49 hospitals in the UK, has placed an order with Belgium based IT company UltraGenda for UltraGenda Pro, UG Contacts Store and UG Broka which includes its patient bookings portal.

The software allows doctors to make electronic referrals and means patients can then book their appointments via the internet or call centre.

A spokesman for BMI Healthcare said the project was in the early stages at the moment but the system would mean patients could book direct from their GP surgery into a BMI hospital with an NHS contract.

Hugo Schellens, managing director of Ultragenda, told EHI Primary Care that he believed the system would pass Choose and Book compliance testing in the first quarter of next year.

He added: "BMI had asked us to become Choose and Book compliant and separately Connecting for Health had also approached us to find out whether we would undergo compliance testing."

The government’s Choice policy requires that from 2006 patients are offered a choice of five hospitals for the most common treatments, one of which must be a private provider.

The BMI Healthcare order was won by a consortium, which in addition to UltraGenda includes Initiate Systems for the enterprise-wide master patient index, Bridgeforward for integration technology and services, Health Systems Consultants for training and assistance, and Agilisys (UK) for project management and hosting. The first hospitals are expected to go live in November.

Connecting for Health is thought to have made links with private providers, as well as social and voluntary sectors, one of its priorities following the organisational changes to the NHS announced in Commissioning a patient-led NHS which could mean many more services are offered by non-NHS providers.