Department of Health dismisses NHS IT blame

Health minister claims MPs' damning report into the National Programme for IT is behind the times

The Department of Health has hit back at a parliamentary report that criticises the NHS's multi-billion pound IT upgrade, claiming the analysis is out of date.

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by the Conservative MP Edward Leigh, issued a report on Tuesday that criticised the NHS's National Programme for IT (NPfIT) over its failure to meet budgets and delivery times. Leigh claimed the evidence suggested that "urgent remedial action" was needed to avoid the project's failure.

The Department of Health was quick to retort, noting that the PAC report was based on a National Audit Office (NAO) report from last year. It insisted that Connecting for Health (CfH) — the NHS department running NPfIT — had since acted on the NAO's recommendations. "Costs of the programme have not escalated," said health minister Lord Hunt. "In fact, the NAO acknowledged that costs were under control, and the strength of the contracts means that payment is not made until systems are delivered, which protects the taxpayer."

The NAO's report, which was published in June 2006, was widely derided as being watered down, after it emerged that certain criticisms of NPfIT had been expunged between the report's drafting and its final publication.

Nonetheless, Lord Hunt claimed on Tuesday that "working with the NHS and clinicians, [the Department of Health is] on track to meet [its] broad targets and, as the NAO confirmed, well-placed to deliver this exciting project".

CfH also insisted that the programme was "delivering on time and on budget" and on track to meet its "broad targets". In a statement, the department claimed that "where there have been delays in providing and implementing some systems, in some hospitals with older IT systems [delays have occurred] where there are considerable complexities connecting the myriad of existing and non-standard systems and interfaces".

CfH promised a fuller response to the PAC's findings "in due course".