19 September 2007 | Antony Barton
The £12.4 billion National Programme for IT (NPfIT) lacks necessary audits, risks creating supplier monopolies and is unlikely to produce value for money, according to a report.
Those are the conclusions of Sir Derek Wanless in a follow-up to his 2002 review of healthcare funding. In his previous study, the former NatWest Group chief executive recommended a doubling of IT investment. This, he said should peak at around £2.7 billion in 2007-8 and was vital to productivity improvements in the NHS.
In his latest report, however, Sir Derek says "the extent to which the NHS will benefit from these substantial investments remains unclear".
He doubts his productivity assumptions, and says the most important factor in this doubt is Connecting for Health's (CfH) decision to contract two major software suppliers, which in turn use a number of smaller suppliers to deliver the programme.
In his view, this risks creating monopolies, and he says CfH could instead have set out to create a competitive market for IT goods and services.
In a further point, he says audits and evaluations are not being conducted, and it is therefore impossible to obtain reliable data on NHS resources being committed to NPfIT.
He adds: "It is difficult to understand why CfH is being allowed to pursue a high-cost, high-risk strategy that cannot be supported by a business case."
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The programme is no stranger to independent scrutiny. From day one it has been subject to the OGC's Gateway process, and more recently the subject of NAO and PAC reports, and the report of a review by the Health Select Committee is imminent."
He added: "Centralised procurement, through a small number of suppliers, was a key feature of the procurement process to avoid the disadvantages and expense of previous approaches."
The aim of NPfIT is to deliver an integrated care records service, an electronic prescribing system, an electronic appointment booking system and IT infrastructure by 2014.
The charity King's Fund commissioned the latest review.