Scotland's NHS has published its outline plan for modernising its information technology base. The programme closely mirrors the main themes of the English strategy revealed last September.

It emphasises the connection of all GPs to the national network NHSnet, and the construction of electronic patient record systems shared between the acute and primary sectors.

Announcing an extra£37m to support the programme over the next three years, Scottish health minister Sam Galbraith said it would 'free up vital staff time for hands-on patient care'.

At the moment, 10 million paper messages pass between GPs and hospitals per year in Scotland, he said. The strategy requires the Common Services Agency to get all GPs connected to NHSnet by the end of 2000 and supply them with a new version of Scotland's GP software.

By the end of 2001, all Scottish hospitals will be able to deliver test results by e-mail. A year later, GPs will be able to book hospital appointments while the patient is in the surgery.

But Scotland will retain its NHS number, the 'community health index' administered by an ageing computer in Dundee. Trusts and GPs will have to stamp their electronic messages with patients' CHIs by the end of this year, leading eventually to full EPRs.

A Strategic Programme for Modernising Information Management and Technology in the NHS.