Doctors give NHS IT a cautious welcome

Survey: Most doctors think the multi-billion pound National Programme for IT will have a positive impact, but few want it to get more funding

Two-thirds of UK doctors are confident that the National Programme for IT will make a positive change to the NHS, a survey has found.

However, only 7 percent think the massive NHS IT overhaul should receive any further funding to ensure its success.

The poll of more than 3,000 medical professionals was carried out for The Times by the medical website Doctors.net.uk. Asked if they were sceptical that the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) would "make a positive change", 66 percent said they were not sceptical, although only 9 percent said they thought the programme would change the way the health service was run.

Only 24 percent of those polled said they had found the project to be frustrating overall, and 86 percent said it should not be abandoned. However, 93 percent disagreed that more investment should be made in the project. Getting more doctors and more clinical funding topped the doctors' request list on the question: "If you could change one thing in the NHS, what would it be?", while 15 out of 3,092 said "more IT".

The figures are consistent with those of a similar survey, carried out towards the end of last year by Medix. While that poll noted falling levels of enthusiasm for NPfIT, when compared with attitudes in 2004, it also found that around 55 percent of doctors were confident that the programme would have a positive effect on clinical care. The programme has been lambasted by some IT experts, mostly over the issues of cost and security, but the NHS has consistently refused to launch an independent review.

A spokesperson for Connecting for Health (CfH) — the NHS department running the NPfIT — told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that CfH had "taken great steps to improve our efforts to win the 'hearts and minds' of doctors, nurses and other health professionals". The spokesperson also praised the team of national clinical leads administering much of the project, and noted that a National Audit Office (NAO) report into the NPfIT, released in June 2006, "complimented the work" that they had carried out.

However, it emerged last year that the NAO report had been watered down, with significant changes having been made to the draft before it was made public.

Dr Neil Bacon, a nephrologist and the founder of Doctors.net.uk, disputed CfH's claims on Tuesday, maintaining instead that NPfIT has "missed an opportunity to date [in] engaging the medical profession and keeping them informed of what is going on". He also pointed out that, while doctors were generally optimistic over the objectives of NPfIT, many were concerned over the security of a centralised database.

Furthermore, Bacon said, many doctors felt they had to "represent" patients' similar concerns or run the risk that the patients would end up withholding crucial information from them due to confidentiality fears.

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