The NHS's Read codes clinical vocabulary is to be gradually merged into the US-developed SNOMED vocabulary.

Ann Harding, head of the NHS's centre for coding and classification and acting chief executive of the NHS Information Authority, told the conference that negotiations with the SNOMED committee 'are being very productive'.

The negotiations are searching for a way of absorbing the Read-based Clinical Terms 3 dictionary into SNOMED, so that the NHS can escape the expensive and never-ending task of maintaining its own clinical terms.

A move towards SNOMED will also mean that software companies will no longer have to design Read-compatible products specifically for the UK market.

'We can't expect the industry to develop systems just for us,' said Ms Harding. 'We have to take advantage of technology that the rest of the world is using and not re-invent our own.'

Miss Harding conceded that the centre had been 'particularly bad at learning from our mistakes in the past', but refused to reveal any findings from the current independent review of the Read project.