Published: 24/04/2003, Volume II3, No. 5825 Page 5

Companies responsible for building fighter planes and maintaining the UK's railways are among those shortlisted to bid for massive new NHS IT contracts. A list of 31 firms interested in becoming local service providers released last week also includes half a dozen IT giants that pulled out of the NHS during the 1990s.

At stake are contracts to run NHS IT across five clusters of special health authorities in England and to provide 'national applications' such as electronic appointment booking.

The hopefuls were whittled down from 99 firms and consortia that replied to a February advertisement by the national programme for IT, headed by NHS IT director Richard Granger.

They include current leading suppliers such as BT, McKesson and Torex as well as some of the world's largest consultancy and IT services firms.

Some, such as Accenture (formerly Andersen), IBM and CSC, pulled out of the NHS after disastrous experiences in the 1990s.

Mr Granger aims to hire a handful of contractors to supplant the hundreds of firms responsible for supplying NHS IT systems.

After further evaluation, mainly into their capacity to run such large projects, companies on the list will be sent a 'preliminary invitation to negotiate' under a formal procurement process. The first of the new contracts, for London's five strategic health authorities, is due to be placed in October.