The Nuffield Hospitals group have gone live with the directly bookable NHS Choose and Book system at its site in Plymouth.

The group spent nine months liaising and testing the system with the assistance of Connecting for Health (CfH) and iSoft and successfully deployed the system last month.

Nuffield have installed the system in their Plymouth hospital which claims to be the first independent sector hospital to offer electronic appointments on the Choose and Book system.

Nuffield Hospitals’ IT director, Chris Cook, told E-Health Insider: “We had been using the indirect Choose and Book for about a year and felt that the time was right to offer our services direct to patients, through their GPs.

“The direct Choose and Book helps us to build a better relationship with local GPs and PCTs. They can see available slots at the time of seeing the patient and offer them the choice of private or NHS. It enables us to take patients under the Patient Choice Initiative and obviously we aim to grow our NHS business through this.”

In upgrading the Choose and Book system, Cook told EHI that the hospitals had to overcome some challenges in order to deploy the directly bookable version.

“In order to upgrade our Choose and Book, we had to upgrade all our hospital systems to the latest version of iSoft’s iPM system. We also had to do a lot of rigorous testing over the nine month period to ensure that we met Connecting for Health’s strict requirements to get technical authority to deploy the new system.”

iSoft UK’s managing director, Paul Richards, said: “We recognise that bringing Nuffield Hospitals onto Choose and Book is a significant step forward in the development of a joined up healthcare service in the UK.”

Since getting approval from CfH, Nuffield have been working with GPs in the Plymouth area on live testing and GPs can now offer patients the choice of private or NHS treatment in the region.

Nuffield says they are deploying the system to its other 38 hospitals in a number of waves and they aim to complete deployments by the end of March. In the last two years they have treated over 108,000 NHS referred patients and Cook believes that – with doctors able to directly book patient slots – the figure should rise.

He added: “I’m sure other independent providers will start to migrate to the direct Choose and Book as it is the mechanism that will deliver patient choice and is the gateway to us getting NHS business in the future.”