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NHS IT – should Government switch off the Programme?

Thursday May 19th, 2011

By Morven MacNeil, GO Content Editor

The Government is coming under fierce pressure to shelve plans for a new NHS patient record system after the National Audit Office (NAO) produced a report which concluded that the scheme could waste another £4.3 billion in the next four years.

The NAO report, entitled The National Programme for IT in the NHS: an update on the delivery of care records systems, concludes that the £2.7 billion spent so far on care records systems does not represent value for money. Based on performance so far, the NAO has no grounds for confidence that the remaining planned spending will change anything.

The main aim of the £11.4 billion National Programme for IT in the NHS launched in 2002 was to reform the way that the NHS in England uses information in order to improve services and the quality of patient care. By 31 March 2011, expenditure on the Programme totalled some £6.4 billion.

The original aim of the Programme was for every patient to have an electronic care record by 2010. The systems the Department of Health contracted its suppliers, BT and CSC, to deliver are now not all expected to be in place until 2015-16. Even so, based on performance so far, it is unlikely that the remaining work in the North, Midlands and East, where just four of 97 systems have been delivered to acute hospital trusts in seven years, can be completed by 2016 when the contract with CSC expires.

In order to meet the revised deadline, over two systems a month would need to be delivered in this Programme area over the next five years.

Where care records systems are in place, they are not yet delivering what the Department had expected, the NAO has concluded. In acute trusts, the systems are mainly providing administrative benefits, rather than the expected clinical ones, such as prescribing and administering drugs in hospitals.

The Department has now changed its approach and moved away from its intention to replace systems wholesale, instead building on and using trusts’ existing systems. The Department estimates it will cost at least £220 million to get the systems to work together.

Amyas Morse, Head of the NAO, said: “The original vision for the National Programme for IT in the NHS will not be realised. The NHS is now getting far fewer systems than planned despite the Department paying contractors almost the same amount of money. This is yet another example of a department fundamentally underestimating the scale and complexity of a major IT-enabled change programme.

“The Department of Health needs to admit that it is now in damage-limitation mode. I hope that my report, together with the forthcoming review by the Cabinet Office and Treasury, announced by the Prime Minister, will help to prevent further loss of public value from future expenditure on the Programme.”

Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk, who has campaigned to highlight the Programme’s problems, said: “The latest NAO report could not be clearer. The National Programme for IT in the NHS is in crisis. The report shows that key systems are late and show little or no sign of ever being produced in any useful form.

“While systems that are suitable for central deployment such as the N3 broadband link and the Picture Archiving Communications Systems for digital x-rays have made good progress, the serious problems lie with the really complex systems for acute hospitals where central control is manifestly not working.”

Officials will now be called before the Commons Public Accounts Committee to justify the continuation of the Programme.

What do you think about the progress of the NHS IT Programme? Do you think it should be scrapped? GO would like to find out your views.

Related links

To view the report, please click here.

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