BT is dumping one of its main contractors for the 10-year project to upgrade the NHS computer network, in a move to deliver system upgrades faster, a spokesman for the telecoms company said today.

BT will transfer GE Healthcare's projects to rival company Cerner in the third quarter of this year. In January, GE Healthcare acquired IDX Systems, the company originally contracted by BT for the work.

The transfer was prompted by a request for faster delivery of promised upgrades from health facilities in the London area, which was covered by GE Healthcare, the BT spokesman said.

The government is overhauling the technology within the NHS in England and Wales, digitising patient records and creating an advanced communications infrastructure. The £12.4bn program has been beset by delays caused by supply problems from subcontractors, including IDX.

Fujitsu Services, one of the four prime contractors for the NHS technology revamps, dropped IDX in April 2005 in favor of Cerner, citing slow progress.

The NHS has held the prime contractors responsible for delays, withholding payment until services are delivered.

Accenture and Computer Sciences Corporation are also prime contractors. In March, Accenture reported a loss of $450m (about £241m) in its Q2 as a result of losses from NHS contracts.

BT is responsible for the Care Records Service, which will make electronic patient records accessible through a nationwide network called the National Data Spine.

A government audit in June found that the National Data Spine is about 10 months behind schedule, and the Care Records Service is about two years behind. BT is also building N3 (New National Network), an enterprise-class WAN (wide area network) with broadband DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and fibre-based ethernet.