Novell has started work on its £21.8 million NHs three-year contract to improve the health service's IT systems.

"Connecting for Health" hopes to modernise the health service through 12 system-upgrade contracts. The NHS is estimated to save up to £75 million over three years by running Suse Linux Enterprise Server on clinical and non-clinical applications. Novell will also support desktop products already in use.

Novell Identity Manager will be used for security and access control, and Open Enterprise Server used as NetWare operating systems are switched to Linux.

Connecting for Health is aiming to ensure the NHS gets the "best possible deal" for IT systems, said Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT. It has "punched the bottom out" of pricing arrangements "suffered by the NHS," he said.

The NHS has been under close scrutiny in how it is progressing with its ten-year IT project, viewed as the biggest in Western Europe, as cost estimates have ballooned. Major projects include an online appointment booking system and centralising patient records on a standard IT system.