A unique deal to provide a sophisticated electronic patient record system as part of a private finance initiative scheme has been put on hold, less than two years after it was signed.

A letter seen by HSJ shows work on the EPR for Barnet General Hospital was suspended in July for eight weeks, while talks took place on extending information technology to other local hospitals.

The EPR is part of an ambitious£65m PFI scheme to provide a new 459-bed unit at Barnet. The inclusion of the IT element, provided by Siemens Healthcare Services in association with Cerner, makes the Barnet scheme the broadest PFI negotiated by the NHS.

The original scheme was signed off by Wellhouse trust, which merged into the present Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals trust two months after the dea l was signed in February last year.

SHS managing director Graham Lewis told HSJ: 'The Chase Farm merger was in the pipeline as it was part of a public consultation. But you have to remember that the Barnet PFI had already been stalled once for two years due to a change of government.

We had gone so far down the road a second time that it wasn't sensible to stop and renegotiate again.'

Now the new trust and Metier Healthcare, the consortium involved in the PFI deal, want to explore extending the scheme to Chase Farm Hospital and four community sites. Plans are further complicated by Siemens recent purchase of a new EPR provider from the US. SHS and Metier Healthcare have put forward new plans for an EPR and IT strategy across the whole trust, which would exclude partnership with Cerner.

But the letter admits this would 'be at a slightly lower level of functionality than the current system'. This would affect the trust's ability to hit the government's Information for Health strategy's minimum target.

Mr Lewis said he was confident that a revised plan would exceed the targets while staying within the original PFI price.

Trust chief executive Elizabeth Heyer told HSJ that postponement was 'an opportunity to review' the situation in the light of the Chase Farm merger. 'We can re-press the starting button on the original scheme after eight weeks if we want to.'

The Information for Health strategy requires acute trusts to hit an EPR level-three status on the road to a fully integrated level six. 'Level three is the current plan for Barnet but that is just a step along the way, ' Ms Heyer said.

'Everyone should be aiming for level six.'

She said the postponement would not add any cost to the original scheme.

One manager close to the project said: 'The NHS has got to get this right and as there are not a great deal of private sector partners to choose from they have got to get it right or their reputation suffers.'