NHS hits back at critics over IT delays

'Suppliers take risks, not the taxpayer', says the NHS, amid allegations that its massive IT project is in a state of disarray

The NHS has defended its multi-billion pound IT project, claiming that recent delays are the fault of companies it has contracted to provide software and services.

In a statement released on Monday, NHS Connecting for Health, the body responsible for implementing the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), insisted that it was "within budget, ahead of schedule in some areas and broadly on track in others".

This came after UK software vendor iSoft issued a profits warning, in which it warned that its contract to supply software to the NHS IT project had been hit by delays. iSoft put the blame on the NHS, but Connecting for Health showed very little sympathy.

"It is because suppliers and their subcontractors, including iSoft, have taken longer than anticipated to deliver effective software solutions that interface with national applications such as the Spine and Choose and Book," said the NHS. "Suppliers do not get paid until they deliver — which demonstrates the strength of the contracts, and the way they protect the public purse. Completion risk lies with suppliers."

The Spine is the central database for patient records, while Choose and Book is a system that should allows patients to make hospital appointments at a time that suits them.

ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com reported earlier this month that the Spine has suffered early difficulties, including downtime over the Christmas period that had a knock-on effect on other systems.

Choose and Book has also suffered problems, and is already around a year behind schedule. Richard Granger, director general of IT for the NHS, warned last November that Choose and Book's delays risk derailing the whole multi-billion IT project.

Opposition MPs have accused the government of making serious mistakes with the NHS National Programme for IT.

The Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Steve Webb, said he saw "all the hallmarks of a failing IT project", while his Conservative counterpart, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley, said that the programme had been mismanaged from the beginning.

"There was not sufficient consultation before the programme was rolled out. Now we have costs spiralling out of control and unworkable software, just as we and GPs warned early last year," said Lansley, according to The Guardian.