Delivering the Department of Health’s Information Revolution will be “extremely challenging” within the financial constraints being felt by the NHS, the British Medical Association has warned.

In its response to the consultation on ‘Liberating the NHS: An Information Revolution’, the doctors’ union notes that IT is often one of the first things to be scaled back in a downturn.

Yet it argues that many NHS organisations do not have the systems in place to realise the government’s vision.

The reality is that IT systems have “significant implementation costs” and a significant time lag before savings are made.

Meanwhile, the BMA says it is sceptical that the information revolution will pay for itself, as ministers have insisted.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a GP and member of the BMA’s Working Party on IT, said: “Improving NHS IT while the NHS is under huge financial pressure will be extremely challenging.

"Delivering the information revolution cost-effectively and equitably will depend on building on the systems that are currently in place and working well, and on involving clinicians.”

The BMA’s response urges the government to “learn from the difficulties encountered by the National Programme for IT in the NHS” and argues that clinicians needed to be involved from the outset.

The BMA supports a strategy of interoperability and further argues that the GP Systems of Choice framework used to supply GP practices with IT systems should be the model for all local NHS systems.

On another topic covered by its response, the union says confidentiality and the need to balance the benefits of new technologies with information governance models is a significant element missing from the DH’s Information Revolution proposals.

The BMA says that in principle it supports the idea of patients controlling aspects of their records. But it argues there must be safeguards in place to reduce the risk of sharing sensitive data.

Dr Nagpaul added: “Even if a patient validly decides to share part of their records, for example via an online support forum, they will effectively lose control once posting it.”

He said the role of clinicians in helping patients protect their own data and in interpreting and explaining information would be vital.

The consultation response says independent evaluation of the HealthSpace patient record portal shows there is limited demand for access to records.

It argues that at a time of financial constraint, investment should only be made if further evaluation finds evidence of patient demand and clear benefits.

The BMA has been under fire from some of its own members for adopting ‘critical engagement’ with the wider NHS reforms. But this week the union pledged to step up its lobbying activity once the Health Bill has been published.

The consulation on the Information Revolution strategy document closes on Friday.