PAC slams handling of NHS IT project

3 August 2011

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3 August 2011 | Adam Leach

Spiralling costs and a lack of value for money have resulted from the Departmentof Health’s failure to get to grips with IT contractors on the patient records project, according to the PublicAccounts Committee (PAC).

A report, published today by the PAC, raises concerns over costs, project objectives and the performance of the senior responsible owner (SRO) – NHS chief executive David Nicholson – on the department’s £7 billion project to create a fully integrated patient records system.

The project, which is part of the wider National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS, has so far cost £2.7 billion. To complete it would cost a further £4.3 billion. But with the original aim of a fully integrated system scrapped and poor performance from current suppliers, the PAC has questioned whether the remaining money should be spent on different systems for the NHS.

Committee chairman and Labour MP Margaret Hodge said: “It [the Department of Health] should now urgently review whether it is worth continuing with the remaining elements of the care records system. The £4.3 billion, which the department expects to spend, might be better used to buy systems that are proven to work, that are good value for money and deliver demonstrable benefits to the NHS.”

The PAC report cited a number of failings in the overall management of the programme, including: not implementing an up-to-date alternative to the original system; a lack of consultation with health professionals during the early stages; and a failure by NHS chief executive David Nicholson to meet his responsibilities as the project SRO.

The conduct of suppliers CSC and BT was also heavily criticised in the report. It said both companies had failed to deliver the number of systems required in their contracts. The Department of Health has managed to renegotiate the contract with BT, but the PAC said it was still too expensive. In the case of CSC, which failed to deliver the majority of systems they were contracted to, the department has admitted cancelling the contract may cost more than waiting for CSC to complete it.

In April 2007, five years into the NPfIT, the PAC raised serious concerns about the project and concluded it was running two years behind schedule. In January this year, PAC member Richard Bacon called on the Department of Health to halt payments to suppliers until independent reports had been conducted. In the same month CSC was paid an advance of £200 million, which it failed to report to PAC when expressly told to do so in June.

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