The NHS Executive is to set up a special national authority for security and confidentiality, says its new head of information management and technology policy, Dr Peter Drury.

The move was prompted after royal colleges voiced doubts over the security of a plan to make GP-held medical records electronically available to the rest of the NHS 24 hours a day.

They have told the Executive that they will not accept online access to GP records unless it is mediated through 'a responsible person', according to Leo Fogarty of the Royal College of GPs' informatics task group.

The professions' opposition to automatic access now means that the 24- hour availability plan - promised by prime minister Tony Blair - will almost certainly be abandoned, though Dr Drury hopes emergency access to limited data can be achieved.

'We cannot resolve those problems without an authoritative body at a national level,' he said.

'When that body is set up, it will be the forum for setting out parameters for access to records. That is a necessity for delivery of the national information strategy.'

The Executive began consulting on plans for the new authority at the end of February, and will receive the results at the end of May, he said.