Britain's National Health Service awarded almost $5 billion in contracts to develop lifelong electronic health records for 50 million patients in its systems linked to 30,000 doctors and 270 healthcare providers in England.The NHS awarded BT Group PLC in London a 10-year, $1.1 billion contract to design, deliver and manage a national patient record database, known as the NHS Care Records Service. Syntegra, BT's systems integration subsidiary, will operate the records service, which also includes a transactional messaging service.The NHS also awarded BT a $1.7 billion contract to serve as the local service provider for London and a $1.9 billion contract to Accenture Ltd. to serve as the LSP for the northeastern part of England. That area includes Northumberland, Yorkshire, Durham and northeast Lincolnshire. The NHS plans to award three other LSP contracts by year-end for coverage in the rest of the country.The local systems will provide the NHS with an IT infrastructure in the five regions, as well as IT support for doctors and healthcare providers.BT said in a statement that its partners on the national contract include Oracle, Sun and LogicaCMG PLC, a London IT services firm. Barry Murphy, a spokesman for Syntegra, said Sun will provide the hardware for the national database as well as smart cards that doctors will use to access the system. LogicaCMG said in a statement that it will develop the core database application to store and update the national patient records.Hamilton, Bermuda Accenture, in a statement, said its partners include BT, Microsoft, Oracle and iSoft, which provides secure e-commerce systems.U.K. Health Secretary John Reid said in a statement that the nationwide project will eventually eliminate disparate paper and computer-based patient records. He said they will be replaced with an electronic record that will be available "24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure that vital health information about an individual's healthcare and care history can be instantly available to healthcare professionals who have authorized access."Dr. Barry Hieb, a healthcare analyst at Gartner in Stamford, Conn., said the NHS electronic patient record system would put England ahead of the U.S. in creating a uniform, national computerized health records system. Since the U.S. doesn\u2019t have a uniform healthcare system, electronic patient records exist only in data islands, Hieb said.This summer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to develop just such a standardized system, which top healthcare companies said would take years to realize.Amy Wohl, an analyst at Wohl Associates in Narberth, Pennsylvania, agreed. Because the NHS is a national system, she said, it's far easier to roll out the electronic patient record system there than in the U.S., which has a hodgepodge of insurance companies, hospitals and doctors. "That said, developing a database of 50 million healthcare records is not a trivial task," Wohl said.Hieb described the task ahead in Britain as "daunting," particularly since electronic patient records have to be integrated across a wide range of computer systems.