Dr Nigel Watson answers questions on NHSnet and on-line appraisals, and explains the purpose of the NHS tracing service
Q NHSnet is becoming increasingly slow, and if the trend continues it will become unusable. What is the NHS doing about it?
A There are nearly 650 000 email addresses in use in the NHS, and NHSnet transmits millions of messages between them each day – in October 2002 alone more than 100 000 000 messages were sent across the network.
In the future, activities such as transferring electronic records between GP surgeries, on-line appointment booking, electronic prescribing and sending digital images will require a greater capacity and speed of transfer than NHSnet is capable of at present.
To cope with this, the Department of Health recently announced an additional £45 million to upgrade NHSnet to broadband. The upgrade will be at no cost to practices and will provide each one with a 256 Kbs fixed link NHSnet connection. It is due to be completed by March 2004.
Q A colleague recently mentioned something called the NSTS. What is it?
A The NHS Strategic Tracing Service (NSTS) is a national database of people, places and organisations. It holds important information on GP-registered patients in England and Wales, including their NHS number, name, date of birth, sex and, where applicable, date of death. It also contains details of GPs and practice addresses. The information comes from two sources – general practice (via PCTs or health authorities) and the Registrar of Births and Deaths (via the Office for National Statistics).
NHS staff can, subject to stringent security procedures, gain access to patients’ details to obtain their NHS number and up-to-date administrative information. It is a useful resource, for example, when tracing patients or redirecting records. No clinical information is held on NSTS.
The NSTS is essential to sharing information within the NHS. In the future, the NHS number will be vital to delivering seamless patient care and a life-long electronic health record.
The service is currently widely used by PCOs and NHS trusts, but not in general practice. If you think your practice may benefit from this service, talk to your local PCT.
Q GPs in our practice have been told that we can complete our appraisals ‘on line’ – is this true? If so, where can we find the website?
A The on-line appraisals toolkit is based on the idea that a single portal should be available to both the appraising and appraisee GP in the NHS. The idea will appeal to some but will not be universally adopted.
The toolkit, which is presently available only to GPs in England, provides advice, best practice, guidance and electronic tools for use in the appraisal process. You complete each section on line and it builds up into an impressive document for your appraisal.
The website can be found at: http://www.appraisals.nhs.uk.
One word of caution, however. When you enter the site and register, indicating the PCO you are working in, a notification of your registration goes directly to the clinical governance lead of the PCO.