Changing specs put NHS IT project in danger

Update: Leaked emails suggest that the troubled 'Choose and Book' appointment system could bring down the whole NHS IT upgrade project - and it's mainly down to last-minute changes in the specs

The future of the multi-billion pound project to upgrade the National Health Service IT systems is in doubt, according to leaked internal memos published this weekend.

The Sunday Times reported that Richard Granger, director general of IT for the NHS, has warned colleagues that there is a real danger that the whole project could be derailed by problems with a system allowing patients to book their own appointments.

The 'Choose and Book' system is meant to allow patients to choose from at least four hospitals when booking an outpatient appointment through their GP surgery.

It is meant to be operational from January 2006, but as reported earlier this month, is now expected to take until at least December.

In the leaked emails, Granger warned that these problems mean Choose and Book "is now in grave danger of derailing (not just destabilising) a £6.2bn project". Granger accused Margaret Edwards, the department's director for access and patient choice, of making repeated last-minute changes to the specification for 'Choose and Book'.

But the Department of Health denied on Monday that the project was in danger.

"We do not comment on leaked correspondence, but there is no question of the NHS IT programme being derailed. The foundation blocks have been successfully delivered and new system deployments are gathering pace," said a Department of Health spokesperson.

Granger's description of the NHS modernisation effort as a '£6.2bn project' may prove to be an understatement. In October 2004, the NHS admitted that the total cost of upgrading the NHS IT system could reach £30bn.