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BT 'on track' for NHS deadlines

The telecoms giant has refuted claims it has been fined for late delivery of key elements of its multibillion pound contract with the NHS
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

BT claims it is "back on track" to deliver on its billion-dollar IT contract with the NHS, despite high-profile problems with some of its key contractors and criticism over missed deadlines.

Speaking to ZDNet UK on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the communications giant said all its key projects with the health service were on schedule.

"We're basically back on track," he said. "We've hit every single milestone that we've been set since summer 2005 — and that's on all three contracts."

The spokesperson conceded that "in the early days there were some lessons to be learned", but denied BT had been penalised for late delivery in its NHS commitments.

In July this year an answer to a parliamentary question revealed that BT had been paid just £1.3m for two years' work on one of its contracts, prompting some industry observers to speculate that fines for missed deadlines had been imposed in the form of withheld payments.  

BT's spokesperson insisted this figure was "an out-of-date figure from much earlier this year" and that the company had in fact been paid "hundreds of millions of pounds for our contracts in total".

BT has, however, had to pay at least £4.5m in compensation to the NHS, with that figure covering the increased costs caused by difficulties in rolling out N3. The National Audit Office has also announced it is to launch an as-yet unspecified investigation into the entire revamp of the NHS' IT systems, known as Connecting for Health (CfH), after estimated costs more than doubled.

Other significant problems have included the financial meltdown of key contractor iSoft and doubts over the delivery of its Lorenzo software, as well as a storage area network equipment failure at CSC's Maidstone data centre.

BT's assurances over deadlines coincided with it announcing that it has rolled out 85 percent of the virtual private network (VPN) it is contracted to provide to the National Health Service. BT says the broadband project — known as N3 (New National Network) — will be completed by the target date of March next year.

The £530m N3 contract should see all 18,000 NHS sites in England — including GP surgeries and hospitals — join the VPN. So far, 15,000 have been connected. Beyond the connection of all sites, BT will also be responsible for the system's maintenance.

The other two major deals that BT has with the NHS are for the Spine — the system central to the medical records service — and local service provider contracts in London.

Despite the company's assurances over targets, BT's spokesperson warned that with such multiple contracts "quite often some of the scheduling of work does change and get revised as you go along", adding that "on a project like this there has to be a degree of flexibility".

Combined, BT's CfH contracts are worth over £2bn across 10 years.

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