£2.7bn NHS records system is 'unworkable', says PAC

The Public Accounts Committee of MPs has produced a damning report of the NHS IT project, criticising the Department of Health and suppliers CSC and BT
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor on

The Department of Health has wasted £2.7bn on a patient care records technology project that is 'unworkable', according to a group of MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the government department had failed to negotiate with major suppliers BT and CSC to secure systems that worked.

"The Department of Health is not going to achieve its original aim of a fully integrated care records system across the NHS," said committee chair Margaret Hodge in a statement on Wednesday. "Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable."

CSC has supplied few of the systems it was contracted to supply, but still has an "effective monopoly" in the North, Eastern and Midlands region, said PAC.

"This could leave many [NHS] Trusts with little choice but to continue with outdated interim systems that could be very expensive to maintain and to upgrade," Hodge added.

CSC contracts may be more expensive to cancel than to continue, even though the Department of Health considers CSC to be in breach of contract, said PAC.

There has been a substantial reduction in the number of London NHS bodies receiving BT systems, yet there has not been much of a reduction in the cost of the contracts, said PAC.

"This casts the department's negotiating abilities in a very poor light," said Hodge.

DoH 'recognises weaknesses'

The DoH said that it "recognises the weaknesses of a top-down, centrally-imposed IT system" in a statement on Wednesday.

"Although elements of the programme have been delivered successfully, the policy approach previously taken has failed to engage the NHS sufficiently," said a DoH spokesperson.

Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable.
– Margaret Hodge MP

The government has been waiting for a series of reports to determine whether to continue with the NHS's National Programme for IT (NPfIT). The National Audit Office reported in May that the NHS would fail to deliver patient care records. The PAC has come to the same conclusion. The government is now waiting for a review by the Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority.

"The findings of the Public Accounts Committee, alongside the outcome of the Major Projects review... will contribute to the planning currently underway for future informatics support to the modernised NHS," said the DoH.

A DoH spokesperson told ZDNet UK that contractual obligations would make it hard to drop its healthcare suppliers. "In many instances it's not a situation where we can just walk away," said the spokesperson.

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