Government Axes Costly NHS IT Project

The government has scrapped one of the major flagship IT projects of the previous Labour administration, namely the National Health Service’s centralised £12.7 billion National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

It was not hard to see why the coalition government decided to axe the controversial and over-budget project, which has been plagued with difficulties over its lifespan.

In the past the project has faced fierce criticism for its rising costs, the removal (or sacking) of two IT providers, as well as the management of the NPfIT programme.

Centralised Approach

Indeed, the project, thought to be the world’s biggest civil IT programme, was initially budgeted for £6bn, but subsequently burgeoned to more than double that amount.

The idea of NPfIT was to move the National Health Service in England towards a single, centrally-mandated electronic care record for patients. It also planned to connect 30,000 general practitioners (GPs) to 300 hospitals, providing secure and audited access to these records by authorised health professionals.

But the problems with the project got so bad that at one stage (January 2009) that some components of the project were estimated to be four years behind schedule.

Localised, Modular Approach

Now NPfIT has finally been killed off by the government, in favour of a “connect-all” strategy that aims to save £700 million.

“A Department of Health review of the National Programme for IT has concluded that a centralised, national approach is no longer required, and that a more plural system of procurement should operate, whilst continuing with national applications already procured,” an official statement from the Department of Health read.

Instead, NHS organisations will now be allowed to introduce smaller, more manageable changes, in line with their business requirements and capacity.

“NHS services will be the customers of a more plural system of IT embodying the core assumption of ‘connect all’, rather than ‘replace all’ systems,” said the health department. “This reflects the coalition government’s commitment to ending top-down government and enabling localised decision-making.”

It said that a review of NPfIT had also concluded that retaining a national infrastructure will deliver best value for taxpayers.

Applications such as Choose and Book, Electronic Prescription Service and PACS have been delivered and are now integrated with the running of current health services,” it said. “Now there is a level of maturity in these applications they no longer need to be managed as projects but as IT services under the control of the NHS. Consequently, in line with the broader NHS reforms, the National Programme for IT will no longer be run as a centralised national programme and decision making and responsibility will be localised.”

No Longer Necessary

“Improving IT is essential to delivering a patient-centred NHS. But the nationally imposed system is neither necessary nor appropriate to deliver this,” said Health Minister, Simon Burns. “We will allow hospitals to use and develop the IT they already have and add to their environment either by integrating systems purchased through the existing national contracts or elsewhere.

“This makes practical sense,” he added. “It also makes financial sense. Moving IT systems closer to the frontline will release £700 million extra in savings. Every penny saved through productivity gains will be reinvested to improve patient care.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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  • Jim Close, Senior Vice President at Software AG, says: "A huge pat on the back for Health Minister Simon Burns for this epiphanic breakthrough in the Government’s approach to IT investments. It is more refreshing than a dip in a mountain stream on a hot summer's day when a government minister says that it's better to connect systems together rather than (rip out the old and) replace them all. That this modern approach to IT procurement is being adopted so quickly by this Government shows a decisiveness that augurs well for the current efficiency review. I trust that the NPfIT rethink is the first of many such moments for this Government."

  • Should have been canned years ago, even before Granger jumped ship. I suppose that, as usual in the 20 or so IT cockups I'm aware of, no heads will roll.
    Could have been avoided by employing 'grey beards' instead of 'techies'. I've seen it all before but not on this scale.

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