Four years ago Tony Blair had lauded the initiation of a high profile, high-tech - and £6.2billion computer scheme that would link GPs and hospitals with the Britain's 50 million patients. Today however this grand scheme is yet to prove its worth.
According to the first set grandiose plans, by 2005, X-rays lab reports and other test results would be delivered immediately to surgeries. This would be followed by prescriptions that would be flashed electronically from doctors' computers to pharmacies. In addition it was also planned that patients' personal records could also be easily accessed anywhere around the system as required. Even hospital appointments were planned to have been arranged electronically and instantly.
AdvertisementThis in turn was to keep an even tighter rein on the NHS by the people of Whitehall.
Later this month the, the National Audit Office (NAO) is expected to publicize a report about the failure of the computer scheme. Even before the release of the NAO report Lord Warner, the health minister, has already admitted that I.T scheme would probably need around £20 billion - more than three times the initially proposed budget.
Already several parts of the country are under heavy pressure to reduce in order to deal with a countywide overspend of £23million which itself came by as a result of a government policy to redistribute expenditure away from rural areas.
Without that burden of cost most hospitals in the country would have been well-funded, and could well have been considering ways to improve services. Instead counties like Gloucestershire have been flung into a crisis and mass demonstrations are being organized this week.
Stroud faces the closure of a maternity hospital while in Berkeley a community hospital is closing. Several hospitals have also been required to reduce the number of beds for the elderly, mentally sick.
This has resulted in most hospital services being concentrated in Cheltenham and Bristol, causing people several counties to undertake journeys of more than 20 miles to get treatment.
Innovative schemes such as health visitors, a visiting physiotherapist, district nurses, in-house counselors and an incontinence clinic that were once a feature of the nineties have taken a back seat.
The general opinion has been that health service has now reached a condition of 'highly-managed mediocrity', where excellence and initiative have no place and where good practices are forced to 'average-down'.