The NHS' much discussed eBookings system is a year behind schedule, because of problems linking computers in GPs' surgeries to those in hospitals.
The Choose-and-Book system was designed to give patients a choice of places they could be referred to when they needed specialist treatment. Sir Nigel Crisp, head of the NHS, said that this choice would still be available by the January 2006 deadline, the BBC reports.
A spokesman for the Department of Health explained that "manual procedures" have been developed to make sure that patients will have a choice of four hospitals, as the government had promised.
The government was warned by the National Audit Office in January this year that it would miss the January 2006 deadline. Back then, then the spending watchdog noted that problems with the IT system underpinning the project were likely to cause delays.
As expected, the main difficulty has been getting the choose-and-book software to talk to all the different computer systems that are installed in GPs' surgeries.
Originally the government said it wanted 200,000 bookings to have been made through the system by the end of 2004. By January this year, just 63 referrals had been made. That figure is currently at around 20,000, still some way short of the 10 million appointments the government had hoped to be booking through the system when it goes live. ®