The Department of Health (DoH) has, as usual, come under a great deal of criticism this year, perhaps with just cause. Throughout the country local hospitals face closure, nurses are being made redundant and junior doctors are unable to find jobs. While health spending has doubled since 1999, the health service had a £620 million budget deficit in the year through March 2006, according to the department. A report by Parliament’s Health Committee published in December 2006 blamed ‘hopelessly unrealistic’ cost estimates and poor management by individual hospitals for the state of health-service finances.

Meanwhile the DoH continues with the ongoing £6.2 billion Connecting for Health project, formerly known as the National Programme for IT. One initiative within this project, the NHS Care Records Service (CRS), went into a trial phase in Bolton Primary Care Trust in March. 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 department is also calling for the adoption of bar coding technology and systems that it believes can save trusts money, bring about improvements in efficiency and data capture in areas such as blood transfusion.