NHS to miss out on £250m of tech upgrades

Underspend hits £2bn as delays to health service tech revamp plan continue
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

Underspend hits £2bn as delays to health service tech revamp plan continue

The NHS is expected to miss out on almost £250m-worth of IT upgrades that were planned for 2009/10.

While the Department of Health (DoH) had budgeted for £800m of capital spending by NHS IT body Connecting for Health (CfH) in the 2009/10 financial year, the latest forecasts estimate that only £562m of the money will be spent, health services minister Mike O'Brien revealed in a written answer to parliament this week.

Over the last five years CfH has spent £2bn less than budgeted on new hardware and software.

The underspend is a result of the DoH falling behind schedule in its £12.7bn project to revamp NHS IT, the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), which was originally due for completion this year. The National Audit Office estimates that the NPfIT will now not be finished until 2014 to 2015.

The longest delays to the programme have been in installing new patient administration systems at hospitals throughout England.

Paul Flynn, member of the IT working party for doctors' union the British Medical Association (BMA), said the delays have been due to the DoH trying to impose the same standardised computer systems in health trusts across England.

"We have for a long time questioned the wisdom of a one-size-fits-all approach for large areas of the country," he said.

"The variety of environments where they are trying to install healthcare systems have proved much more complex than anticipated.

"We favour a best of breed approach where there are a number of different approved computer systems available, and it is up to each health trust to choose the system that best suits their needs."

The two suppliers installing new patient administration systems, BT and CSC, only get paid upon delivery of new systems. However, technical difficulties have delayed the installation of systems and figures released in parliament last year showed that, by March 2009, BT and CSC had been paid less than a third of the projected value of their contracts as Local Service Providers for the NPfIT.

Work installing new patient administration systems at hospital trusts in the south of England was also halted in May 2008 after the contract with the supplier Fujitsu ended prematurely. BT took over responsibility for fulfilling Fujitsu's obligations at eight health trusts in the south last year.

The lack of progress in installing new patient administration systems in hospitals prompted DoH CIO Christine Connelly to give BT and CSC until November 2008 to show that they could deliver new systems more quickly. The DoH is currently assessing what progress has been made.

Tola Sargeant, analyst with TechMarketView, said it is now up to BT and CSC to prove they have overcome the early technical problems with the rollouts: "It will be interesting to see if the Local Service Providers [BT and CSC] will be able to meet the schedules they are setting out for themselves this year," she said.

The Department of Health is currently in talks with BT and CSC about how it could realise £600m-worth of savings by "reductions to the scope of the systems".

A Connecting for Health spokeswoman said: "We are endeavouring to inject pace into the delivery [of systems to hospitals] while realising the complexity of those healthcare settings and the systems that need to go in there."

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