NHS scales back scope of patient records system

12 April 2010

12 April 2010 | Lindsay Clark

The £12 billion NHS IT programme, hailed by the health service as a model for public sector IT procurement, is now unlikely to provide electronic health records for all patients in England, as promised when the project was begun in 2003.

Following the scaling back of BT’s contract to provide systems for London and southeast England, the NHS has now accepted that not all hospitals will receive the systems necessary to introduce electronic records.

Connecting for Health, the agency of the UK Department of Health that manages the NHS IT contracts, was not available for comment. It is believed, however, that a deal has been struck between the NHS and BT to scale back the scope of the work. This would mean only about half the planned number of hospitals would get the systems.

In 2003, the government started a £6 billion procurement process for NHS IT. BT picked up contracts to manage implementation in London and develop electronic records. It also won a piece of work to introduce a broadband network, and later also took on a deal to introduce systems in the South East.

The NHS hailed the procurement process a success because suppliers would not be paid unless systems were tested and working in hospitals.

However, the tough stance of the NHS may have been counterproductive in achieving value for money, according to Michael Hawdon, public procurement partner at consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers. He said the philosophy behind this procurement was “wave money in front of the private sector and they will come; if they sign a contact, you can beat them if you like”.

He added that the problem arises when, if the project starts to go sour, the private contractor is unlikely to put its best people on the project. “The public sector has got to get smarter and get various [private sector] organisations to bring talent to these contracts and keep them there.”

The Conservatives have said they would scrap the plan for nationally available health records if they came to power.

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