NHS IT project will face inquiry

Computer academics have forced the government into agreeing to an independent review of the NHS IT upgrade

An independent inquiry will be held later this year into the government's multi-billion pound upgrade of the NHS IT systems, which has been widely criticised by experts.

As reported last week, a group of UK computer academics met with Richard Granger, NHS IT director general, last Thursday to discuss their concerns about the National Programme for IT.

Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University attended last week's meeting, where he expressed his concerns about the Programme.

"There is very widespread concern about the viability of NPfIT. We visited Granger and explained our concerns to him. He agreed that an independent review should be undertaken. We have been asked to propose terms of reference for the review and are consulting on that now. We plan to get back to him with a proposal shortly," Anderson told ZDNet UK.

A total of twenty three computer science academics wrote to Granger earlier this month to express their concerns over the programme, including Anderson and Frank Land, visiting professor of information systems at the London School of Economics. Land agrees that the project needs independent scrutiny.

"This is a very complex project, and by their nature very complex projects tend to get into trouble. The interactions that occur are unpredictable," said Land. “An independent review is necessary because people get involved in a 'group thinking process' and can't see tangential things outside the group.”

The government has claimed that the programme will modernise the UK's health system, and deliver a range of benefits. Critics, though, have claimed that the government has failed to recognise the risks and challenges that are inherent in such a massive project.

The programme was originally budgeted to cost £6.2bn, but in late 2004 the Department of Health admitted that the final bill could reach £30bn.

The NHS said that last week's meeting was "constructive and fruitful", and would be followed by a second meeting to hammer out details of an inquiry.

"The representatives expressed their agreement with and support for the overall goals of the programme as expressed in the meeting. There was agreement that a constructive and pragmatic independent review of the programme could be valuable," said NHS Connecting For Health in a statement.

"The parties agreed to meet again to consider further details of how such a review might best be conducted and its terms of reference."