Hospitals have been forced to rely on increasingly outdated IT systems because of delays in implementing a major part of the national programme for IT, the Commons health select committee has warned.

In a report on the electronic patient record published today, MPs on the committee said they 'deplored' the delays and were 'dismayed' at the lack of clarity over the project.

It concludes that the electronic patient record is the top priority for improving healthcare, but says 'serious doubts' have been raised about how much has been achieved by the national programme.

The report supported the aim of introducing a nationally available summary care record, containing key health information which can be accessed by clinicians anywhere in the country 'as soon as possible'.

But the committee called on the Department of Health to spell out what information will be included in the summary care record and what it will be used for.

Continuing delays to the delivery of new patient administration systems and functions such as electronic prescribing in hospitals are a 'major concern' and 'remain the biggest obstacle to delivering shared local records', it added.

The report found that the implementation of new hospital systems is more than two years behind schedule. The delays have left many hospitals relying on 'outdated systems for their day-to-day administration'.

The national programme for IT is a complex set of projects intended to transform the use of IT in the NHS.

At the heart of the programme is the NHS care records service, which aims to introduce a range of electronic patient record systems. The systems aim to offer improvements to the safety, quality and efficiency of care.

The report said the fact that electronic patient record systems are essential for the delivery
of modern healthcare and can improve communication must be publicised.

'We believe this would help to convince people of the necessity and benefits of the EPR,' it said.