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NHS IT project faces 'acceleration of dismantling'

The government has said that the failing NPfIT will be 'dismantled' more quickly, a claim that has been disputed by campaigners

The government has said that a failing major NHS IT project will be 'dismantled', after a third review of the project found the programme to be untenable. However, campaigners say that there is nothing behind that claim.

NHS ribbon

The government has said the NHS National Programme for IT will be dismantled after being slated in three major reports. Photo credit: comedy_nose/Flickr

The National Programme for IT (NPfIT) will face "an acceleration of... dismantling", following a negative review by Cabinet Office body the Major Projects Authority, the Department of Health (DoH) said in a statement on Thursday.

Nonetheless, major planks of the NPfIT will remain in place, including Summary Care Records system, said the DoH.

"The NPfIT achieved much in terms of infrastructure and this will be maintained, along with national applications, such as the Summary Care Record and Electronic Prescriptions Service, which are crucial to improving patient safety and efficiency," DoH said in the statement. "But we need to move on from a top-down approach and instead provide information systems driven by local decision-making."

NPfIT campaigner Tony Collins disputed the government's claims that NPfIT was being dismantled, and said in a blog post on Thursday that there was "nothing new" in the government announcement.

"There is no evidence in the press release for the [DoH] claim that the NPfIT is being dismantled," said Collins. "Negotiations continue with CSC over its £3bn worth of NPfIT contracts and BT's deals will remain in place."

No decisions have been taken on contracts with NPfIT suppliers CSC and BT, a DoH spokeswoman told ZDNet UK on Thursday. The DoH has previously said that cancelling its failing CSC contracts could cost more than letting the contracts run to term.

Whilst there have been substantial achievements, NPfIT has not and cannot deliver to its original intent.

– Cabinet Office spokesman

The DoH will announce a fresh review of all DoH informatics and services in the autumn, and remains committed to involving more SMEs in NHS IT provision, said the DoH spokeswoman.

The Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority (MPA) report added to the findings of reports delivered by the NAO in May, and the Public Accounts Committee in August. The MPA report is unlikely to be published, a Cabinet Office spokesman told ZDNet UK on Thursday.

"Whilst there have been substantial achievements, NPfIT has not and cannot deliver to its original intent," said the spokesman.

Project praise

Nevertheless, the MPA report praised major parts of the project, including the NHS Spine, N3 Network, NHSmail, Choose and Book, Secondary Uses Service and Picture Archiving and Communications Service, according to the DoH statement. These parts of NPfIT have cost £6.4bn so far, out of a total budget of £11.4bn.

BT said that it supported government moves towards decentralised provision of IT services.

"We are pleased that the Major Projects Authority recognises the achievements delivered by BT through the Spine, N3, the Secondary Uses Service and Picture Archiving and Communications Service," BT said in a statement on Thursday. "We support the move from centrally led to locally and clinically led healthcare. We have already changed our approach to respond to this and were the first supplier to do so."

CSC said that it supported government plans to decentralise NHS IT, but declined to comment on its ongoing contractual dispute with DoH.

"CSC fully supports the direction outlined for NHS IT and firmly believes that the significantly modified, more flexible approach we have proposed to drive faster deployment and support more localised decision making, will enable UK government to reap the benefits required from past investments," the company said in a statement on Thursday. "We are continuing to work closely with NHS as the programme moves to a more modular approach, whilst ensuring that benefits are increasingly realised by clinicians and frontline staff, enabling them to deliver better patient care and build a more efficient NHS." 


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