Published: 16/01/2003, Volume II3, No. 5838 Page 7

The government's plans to have two-thirds of consultant outpatient appointments and elective admissions pre-booked by April 2004, and all of them pre-booked by the end of 2005, have been seriously hampered by a major delay in awarding the contract for the booking system IT.

The contract to develop and maintain a booked admissions system for the NHS and social care, with an estimated value of£350m, was re-advertised last week after the original tendering process was halted.

Oracle public services business development director Ian White said the original tendering process had narrowed down preferred bidders to EDS and BT, but this process had then been halted towards the end of the year. The new process means that invitations to tender for the system will not be sent to selected candidates until at least late February.

The delay in rolling out the booked admissions programme from its pilot sites to a national system means that pre-booked targets may now be unachievable.

And HSJ has learned that all NHS IT projects will face a new level of Treasury security from April.

The Treasury's Office of Government Commerce, set up in 2000 to cut the waste in government procurements, is to carry out 'gateway' reviews on all NHS projects judged to be risky. This includes anything involving IT, a spokesperson for the office said.

Gateway reviews will become mandatory from 1 April, when the national programme for IT officially begins. The reviews consist of short scrutinies by independents experts at key stages.

At least two major NHS IT projects, the human resources and payroll service and the integrated care records service (ICRS) have already undergone voluntary gateway reviews.HSJ understands that the ICRS review was highly critical. The OGC refused to comment on individual reviews, saying that confidentiality is essential to the process.

OGC officials said that from April IT projects of any size would have to undergo review.