NHS £13bn IT programme to be overhauled

Speculation over plans for BT and CSC
  • Leo King (Computerworld UK)
  • 14 July, 2010 04:54

The troubled £12.7 billion (US$19.1 billion) NHS National Programme for IT is set to be overhauled, after the Department of Health said it would slash spending on consultants for centralised programmes, and promised an "information revolution".

The NHS, which is attempting to cut £20 billion from overall costs, will use a "more plural system of IT and other suppliers", the Department said in a white paper today. Chief executive David Nicholson will make an announcement in the next month.

Over a billion pounds was spent on the programme last year alone, with large amounts understood to have gone to the two main suppliers, BT and CSC. But relatively few trusts have workable patient administration systems in place.

News of a looming overhaul comes as a prominent GP representative at the British Medical Association called for the rollout of summary care records to be stopped until the new coalition government has carried out a thorough review of the programme.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul told specialist website E-Health Insider that it was "incongruous" for SCR uploads to continue after the government said it was reviewing the scheme. Some 300,000 SCRs have been created since the announcement of a review last month.

"There is nothing to be gained by pushing on with something that needs review," he told the website. There remained "real concerns" with the record, he said. The BMA has previously aired concerns about patients' understanding of the record, as well as the quality and presentation of data.

A government-commissioned review into the SCR scheme, which published its findings last month, found that SCRs were offering almost no benefit to patients or doctors. It has also been established that many patients do not understand the implications of the scheme, even after receiving an information pack.

Confusion has reigned over the future of the programme after the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties -- which form the coalition government and had insisted before the election they would abolish centralised patient records -- failed to mention NHS IT in a spate of announcements on government databases. Some £7 billion of other databases are to be abolished, as a result of an early announcement.

There has also been no news as to the future involvement of CSC, which is supplying patient systems to the North and the Midlands, after it implemented the iSoft Lorenzo system at a much-delayed deadline in Morecambe Bay. The implementation was being watched closely by the Department of Health and was a clear target CSC was required to reach. A decision has not been announced.

Meanwhile BT, the other lead supplier which experienced problems in early London rollouts, has seen its contract reduced in scope with only half of acute trusts in the capital now set to receive the systems.

BT and CSC had not commented at the time of writing. The Department of Health said more details would be given in the official announcement next month.

Tola Sargeant, research director at analyst house TechMarketView, said the plan "sounds like another nail in the coffin for the National Programme for IT". But she noted that it could be "good news" for software and IT services suppliers that are not currently working on the programme.