The massive failure of government plans to upgrade the NHS computer system in England should not be allowed to detract from plans to give online access to all patient records by 2015.

A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report concluded recently that the attempts to upgrade NHS systems ended as one of ‘worst and most expensive contracting fiascos’ in the history of public sector funding.

The project dated back to 2002 and was an attempt to make medical records available on a universal IT platform throughout England.

The PAC estimates the final bill for the failure to be in excess of £10 billion. Struggling with contractual and technical problems the scheme was effectively ended by the coalition government in 2011 but there is still outstanding expenditure.

The failure of this attempt to upgrade NHS systems should not detract from the government commitment to give all patients online access to their medical records. Some GP’s practices already offer online access to medical records and many NHS Trusts are advanced in their IT system upgrades.

Clinicians having accurate and immediate access to a patient’s medical records has to be the way forward. Security of data is the key and secure UK data centres can store the information in the Cloud.

Jeremy Hunt the Health Secretary is adamant that a ‘paperless’ NHS would save billions of pounds and wants all hospital records available online by 2018. By 2015, “NHS referrals will be done electronically with the goal of the entire NHS going paperless by 2018,” he said.

Patients will have to give their consent for their medical records to be available online but they must be given confidence by an improved and more efficient NHS. Having their medical records available also builds in the safety factor that patients can check medical decisions that are made about them. It would create a ‘no decision about me without my knowledge’ situation.