NHS records system to be tested in Bolton

Bolton will be the first to test the new electronic medical records system, which will eventually allow patients to view their own health data from their home computer.

As an "early adopter" of the National Health Service's Care Records Service (NHS CRS), Bolton Primary Care Trust will become the first to trial the new IT system. Letters will be sent out this weekend to 15,000 patients of two practices in Bolton, alerting them to the trial and giving them eight weeks to opt out.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us, and no doubt some challenges along the way - but I am convinced that this will be good for patients, good for local healthcare professionals and good for the health of the people of Bolton," said Tim Evans, the chief executive of Bolton PCT.

The CRS will take several years to rollout across the UK and is just one aspect of the National Programme for IT, which is being developed by Department of Health agency Connecting for Health (CfH). In the next decade, the multi-billion pound programme will see IT used across the NHS to electronically transfer prescriptions, digitally store x-rays, and allow patients to book appointments online, among other administrative and care tasks.

While most clinics already hold medical records on computers, the CRS will allow information to be accessed in other locations, such as an accident and emergency unit. The new records system will initially hold basic details of a patient's allergies, current medications and previous bad reactions to treatment but will be expanded to include entire medical records.

"There are huge potential benefits from making patient records available to all staff caring for them, through the secure NHS network," said Dr Liagat Natha of Kearsley Medical Centre, one of the two practices involved in the trial. "If doctors and nurses have the right information about patients then they are able to make better decisions and advise patients about the care they need."

Patients will have the ability block access to all or part of their data and, for the first time, will be able to check their own records for accuracy and add information, such as requests for interpreters or wheelchairs. From this summer, early adopters will be able to see their own records from their home computer, as they will be accessible online via a dedicated website Health Space, said a CfH spokesperson.

Medical staff, however, will only be allowed to view the data if they are involved in treating the patient and have logged into the secure system, the CFH said.