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NHS IT "sleepwalking towards disaster"

MPs call for overhaul of the programme...
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor

MPs call for overhaul of the programme...

The government's £12.4bn NHS IT programme is "sleepwalking towards disaster" with suppliers, local trusts and clinical staff losing confidence in it amid delays and spiralling costs, according to two MPs.

The two MPs, Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk, and John Pugh, Liberal Democrat MP for Southport, are both members of the parliamentary spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee that recently criticised progress on the Connecting for Health (CfH) programme.

A paper by Bacon and Pugh says the problems with CfH are a consequence of "over-centralisation, over-ambition and an obsession with quick political fixes" and they are now calling for the programme to be decentralised and for more control to be given to hospitals locally.

Bacon said: "This programme is costing taxpayers a king's ransom but it is descending into chaos."

The MPs cite market speculation that Accenture is negotiating its exit from the NHS IT programme with a view to handing over its contracts to fellow services giant CSC and say if this happens then the government should take the opportunity to rethink the whole project.

The paper said: "The programme is far too complex to be managed properly and is running late and wildly over its initial planned budget. It badly needs to be simplified and likely future costs need to be brought down. The fundamental error made when setting up the programme was to assume that centralised procurement of single systems across the NHS would be more efficient than local decision-making guided by national standards."

One of the key criticisms by the MPs is the creation of a centralised electronic patient record containing a person's entire medical history that would potentially be available to thousands of NHS staff.

The paper said: "Only a small amount of clinical information is in fact essential: much of the information currently collected and likely to be entered under the National Programme is at best redundant and at worst positively unhelpful. It is inconceivable that clinicians will ever be persuaded to make important treatment decisions based on large amounts of data entered by dozens of unknown clinicians."

The MPs advise that the CfH central 'Spine' should be retained but that it should just store cleaned up demographic data (name, address and the like) along with a small number of key items such as allergies and blood type.

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