NHS IT chief warns against local budget cuts

Richard Granger warns NHS trusts not to be blinded by the short-term disruption and cost of implementing systems such as digital picture archiving, electronic prescription transfer and electronic referrals

The financial meltdown in some healthcare authorities across the country will not hit funding for the rollout of the £7bn Connecting for Health (CfH) modernisation programme, according to NHS IT director general Richard Granger.

In an exclusive interview with ZDNet UK sister site Silicon.com, Granger admitted IT is the "easiest budget to raid", but said he did not expect any cutbacks at trust level to have a significant impact on the 10-year CfH programme.

He said: "The much-reported financial issues in the NHS, when you look at them from a percentage perspective, they do not stack up as something that has a material impact on a strategic investment programme."

But he warned NHS trusts not to be blinded by the short-term disruption and cost of implementing CfH systems such as digital picture archiving, electronic prescription transfer and electronic "choose and book" referrals.

"You need to spend around four percent of the total cost of running a health system on information technology," he said."We currently spend about half of that in England in the NHS. The organisations that are performing well are spending money on IT. There's a correlation between investment in IT and efficient operations."

Granger acknowledged, however, the "complex gearbox" of expenditure priorities that local NHS trusts have to deal with and the short-term disruption involved in putting new IT systems in and said it will continue to be a hard sell for some IT suppliers.

He said: "It will continue to be a stretch for the supplier community to demonstrate sufficient functionality to get the end users who have got systems at the moment that are fit for purpose today to go through the disruption."

Granger also hit back at critics "obsessed with short-term targets" and described the accountability, scrutiny and engineering complexity of CfH as a "unique cocktail of difficulty".

He said: "We always need to be careful to think about the alternative. Is the alternative to do nothing? That didn't seem satisfactory to most people because they want to see a modern NHS. Was the alternative to send the money out on a trust-by-trust basis? Well, I'm sorry, that's what we've been doing for 12 years, and we can measure the progress on that."

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