It may not be quite as glamorous as the New York marathon, but the Great North Run in Newcastle uses similar technology to track its 40,000 participants.

One runner was obviously impressed.Phil Diver, specialist services director of United Medical Enterprises, decided it would be ideal for monitoring patients during a hospital transfer the company was involved with in Swindon.

This is how Operation Back Up, a Rochester firm that normally tracks newsprint for national newspapers, came to track patients when Princess Margaret Hospital transferred to the new Great Western Hospital in December.

'Normally, we are involved in the newspaper industry.We put tags in paper reels at the mill and track them to the printers, ' says Sean Greene, Operation Back Up's technical services manager.

'We do not advertise - all our work comes from people who have seen our systems.United got in touch because a similar system had been used in the Great North Run.'

The tags used were the size of a grain of rice, embedded into a larger sheet of paper. Each carried a unique number and was inserted into a patient's notes.The tags were read using a 125 khz reader as patients left PMH and as they arrived at GWH.Satellite tracking technology followed the ambulances from one to the other, giving the transfer team 10-second updates on the progress of every patient (pictured).

Veronica Cavenagh, project manger for United, says the system was 'fantastic because we could tell ward staff exactly when people would arrive'.

It was particularly good when the special care baby unit was transferred, in 'blue light' ambulances with a police escort, 'because mothers could be kept informed and we could reassure them'.