Winner: Suffolk health authority, the Suffolk extranet Runner-up: Bromley health authority, the Bromley general practitioner clinical system

Suffolk HA

The Suffolk NHS community includes seven primary care groups, four trusts and the HA. Its wider community includes a range of partners who need to obtain and share information.

All these agencies recognised a need to find more appropriate and effective ways of exchanging information and to communicate with different audiences.

This led to the Suffolk extranet - a working website for the entire local community. The extranet is being developed in an inclusive way. It fits within the community implementation strategy and supports the local modernisation agenda. It also links in to other developments, such as the NHS library strategy, IT and GP development initiatives. Although care has been taken not to stifle research and innovation, the project is run according to a proper management methodology, so milestones can be set and achievements evaluated.

The extranet allows all partner organisations to share, update and manage information electronically.

But it is not just a document management system. Many types of information can be stored and updated, including contact details, library searches and signposted Internet and NHSnet links.

To avoid duplicating data between NHSnet and the Internet, the HA has worked with its supplier, Infocom, on simultaneous access to both through a secure authenticated connection.

A system of secure locked layers means particular partners can be given access to information not normally available beyond the NHS community - without compromising the security of NHSnet.

This has stretched the boundaries of partnership working.

The judges said:

An excellent initiative using widely available web technologies. The low training requirements mean there is real local ownership and involvement. This project is at an early stage and the judges do not intend to portray it as an example of best practice at this stage. However, with appropriate backing, this has the potential to develop into a beacon extranet. The judges felt this award would encourage others to explore simple web technologies to help local communities work together.

Bromley health authority

Eighteen months ago, there were more than 15 different clinical systems in use among Bromley's 57 GP practices - the majority of which were out of date and most of which were not Y2K compliant.

The situation was exacerbated by a lack of knowledge and IT skills among practice staff.

The Bromley GP Clinical System aimed to tackle these issues.

Practice visits and seminars were used to gain an understanding of GP practice needs and to ensure customer involvement in the selection of a new clinical system.

A project steering group was established to ensure effective project management and quality assurance. It met every five weeks and reported to a primary care IM&T forum.

Progress reports were circulated every six weeks and feedback was used to assess the project's effectiveness. A primary care support team was set up to provide on-going support to practices.

There is now a standard IM&T system that replaces existing systems and offers local area networks and full GPnet connections.

Uptake was optional, but 52 practices have decided to use it and two more have expressed an interest. There have been demonstrable improvements in patient care.

The system is being used to provide patient advice leaflets, NHSnet and Internet access and electronic delivery of test results.

A portable system means GPs can take electronic copies of patient records on home visits.

Although it was not a prerequisite for the project, there have also been some financial savings arising from the use of a single trainer and reduced ongoing support costs.

The judges said:

This is a good initiative that improved service, not only between GPs but also between practices and secondary care providers. The project was well managed and implemented with evidence of clear objectives, careful preparation and attention to detail throughout. There are impressively high levels of user consultation, take-up, involvement and satisfaction. It will be interesting to see how the initiative develops further from this platform.