NHS IT 'still on budget', but not at £6.2bn

The NHS National Programme for IT is likely cost more like £20bn than £6.2bn, but the government insists that doesn't mean it's over budget

A government minister sparked controversy today when he was quoted as claiming that the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) was likely to cost more than twice its budgeted £6.2bn.

According to a report in the Financial Times, Lord Warner, the under-secretary of state for health, warned that the cost of the NPfIT was likely to be closer to £20bn. But Lord Warner's comments on the controversial programme were more measured than they first seemed.

Lord Warner told the FT that he made his comments to address "confusion in the public arena" about what the £6.2bn "does and does not cover", prior to the report on the programme by the National Audit Office which is expected next month.

The national contracts remained on budget, Lord Warner said, adding that it was important that people remembered that the budget covers the infrastructure and applications, and not staff training, money spend on buying computer equipment and other additional costs.

In order to meet their costs, hospitals and other NHS facilities would have to use their existing spending on IT — which he estimated at around £1.2bn a year and rising. This means that "spending over the next decade is going to be up nearer £20bn," Lord Warner said.

He added that if Connecting for Health had not been instituted, the NHS would still need to spend about £1bn per year on legacy systems.

The scheme has attracted criticism from the outset, and last month a group of IT experts became the latest to warn there are serious question marks over its future.

The aim behind the NPfIT is to computerise patient records and introduce "joined up" governance to the NHS.

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