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With the advancement of information technology (IT) throughout society, and more specifically within hospitals, a baseline competency in IT has become essential for all NHS staff, including anaesthetists. The European Computer Driving Licence (EDCL) is used as the benchmark IT qualification for the NHS, and since March 2003 this qualification has been provided free to all NHS staff. The ECDL was established by the Finnish Computer Society in 1988 and became a National Standard in IT competency in Finland. The Council of European Professional Informatics Society (CEPIS) developed the curriculum during the early 1990s; the only IT qualification to be endorsed by the EU member states as a European Award. By 1996, the British Computer Society began promoting the ECDL within the UK. By April 2004 there were 1 million people in the UK registered with this international IT qualification.

The qualification requires demonstrating competency across seven modules. Competency is assessed by means of tests, which take approximately 45 min each. Each module is tested separately, and successful completion of all seven modules leads to the award of the ECDL qualification. Testing is taken in an accredited test centre, of which there are now approximately 200 NHS centres, in addition to other accredited commercial centres. Since March 2003, the NHS ECDL Portal was launched, giving NHS staff on-line resources to undertake the qualification. This web-based eLearning solution allows NHS staff to learn from any PC connected to the Internet. For non-NHS staff, commercial testing with or without tuition is available.

The ECDL qualification is designed to allow flexible learning and can be completed from a home with access to a computer. The amount of time needed to complete the ECDL is dependent on baseline computer skills, but those with no computer skills should be able to complete the qualification in 80 h. The seven modules are: Module 1-Basic Concepts of Information Technology; Using the Computer and Managing Files; Word Processing; Spreadsheets; Databases; Presentations; and Information & Communication. In November 2003, the NHS Information Authority carried out an online survey of NHS staff who had passed the ECDL to canvass the impact of the qualification on their work. There were 638 responders of 1103 contacted. Respondents estimated an average time saved of 35 min per day (15 min per day for medical staff). Furthermore, all respondents, irrespective of baseline computer skills, had saved more time over a year than they had invested in their learning. Other benefits reported included improved record keeping for governance, better access to health guidance and protocols and more positive attitudes towards the introduction of new electronic patient records. In summary, the European Computer Driving Licence is a benchmark of basic IT competency and should be in every anaesthetist's portfolio. It is available without charge to NHS anaesthetists and widely available commercially for locum or other non-NHS staff.

For more details on registering for the ECDL see http://www.ecdl.nhs.uk, http://www.nhsia.nhs.uk, or http://www.ecdl.com.