NHS patient records may be held by Microsoft or Google instead of on the current central ‘spine’, if the Conservative Party wins the next general election.

The possible move, reported by the Times, would mean scrapping central parts of the government’s £12.7 billion National Programme for IT, in which a national network built by BT will hold all the data. The record systems are being implemented by CSC and BT.

Sites such as Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault could hold the data, under the plans. The Conservatives estimate this will save over £800 million annually, according to reports in the Telegraph.

Nevertheless, the move has drawn criticism, as questions were raised over the Conservatives’ links to Google. Steve Hilton, a close adviser to Tory leader David Cameron, is married to Rachel Whetstone, the company’s VP of public affairs, the Times reported. And five months ago, it emerged that Google chief executive Eric Schmidt would join a Conservative business forum to advise on economic policy.

The emergence of a more detailed Conservative plan for NHS IT follows a report by right-of-centre think tank the Centre for Policy Studies, which stated the government should “yield control of personal information to individual citizens”. The Conservatives have repeatedly stated they want to cancel a number of key databases including identity cards, and have commissioned the British Computer Society to review the NHS IT programme.

Richard Holway, chairman at analyst house TechMarketView, said the approach being considered by the Conservatives “has many merits”.

But many of the costs of the NHS IT programme "have already been committed”, he noted. “A cancellation would probably trigger higher costs by way of compensation to existing providers.”

Doctors needed a guarantee they could access their records, he said. And many elderly patients, or those who were very ill, may face difficulties accessing online patient records.