A prototype health records infrastructure is being built at South Staffordshire Healthcare trust to support the development of a national HRI.

The national project, which is being designed and implemented by the NHS Information Authority, will link existing computer systems containing patients' health records.

This will allow authorised NHS staff to see many health records relating to one patient. It will also allow patients to see, and perhaps maintain, their records, wherever they were held.

The Staffordshire demonstrator is being developed by CSW Health and is built around its Case Notes system. It includes a central HRI gateway, through which users can access GP, primary care and acute care records.

Users can search for a patient using the national strategic tracing service. Users can find out which local community they are associated with using the patient's postcode, and the Exeter community index to find out which local systems hold information about them.

Information is transferred between the HRI and the third-party systems using XML messaging, so a 'virtual' record for each patient can be formed while the information is still held elsewhere.

CSW says security has been an important consideration. The project has also investigated patient consent and implemented an access control framework with a patient consent record.