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NHS IT programme faces cutbacks

Alistair Darling has announced that the National Programme for IT will be scaled back or cut completely
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor on

The project at the heart of NHS IT faces cuts and may even be scrapped, according to the chancellor, Alistair Darling.

The National Programme for IT (NPfIT), which has a budget of over £12bn, will be scaled back or cut completely, Darling told the BBC on Sunday.

Darling said he would give more details on Wednesday, when he is due to make a pre-budget announcement regarding public-sector spending cuts.

"I do think it is necessary for me on Wednesday to indicate areas where we are going to cut spending or where we are not going to spend as much as we were," Darling told the Andrew Marr Show.

"The NHS had quite an expensive IT system that, frankly, isn't essential to the front line. It's something that we don't need to go ahead with just now."

Darling's announcement contradicts the Department of Health's position this summer. In June, junior minister Lord Darzi told the NHS Healthcare Innovation Expo that cutting back NHS IT would stifle innovation.

Connecting for Health (CfH), which administers NPfIT, told ZDNet UK on Monday that the Treasury had been discussing cuts with the Department for Health, but that neither department had given any indication yet as to exactly where the cuts would be made.

"The chancellor and the secretary of state for health have examined options for savings on the NHS IT system, and more details will be set out in due course," said a Connecting for Health statement on Monday.

The British Medical Association (BMA), the industry body that represents UK doctors, said in a statement on Monday that "what is crucial is that clinicians have the tools they need for the job."

"While the National Programme for IT was characterised by poor value for money in its early stages, cutting back now is not as simple as it may seem, given that contracts are already in place," said a BMA spokesperson.

"We need to be clear that good IT, as well as being beneficial to patients, may save the taxpayer money in the long term. Many of the errors that take place in the NHS could be prevented through information systems."

The spokesperson added that NPfIT systems were used in frontline care, and that politicians should re-examine the role of the private sector in the NHS before cutting IT systems.

"The use of independent sector treatment centres and external management consultants should be questioned before we scale back on technology that allows clinicians to provide care safely," the BMA spokesperson added.

Since its inception in 2002, NPfIT has spent £4.4bn on contracts, CfH told ZDNet UK in November. Parts of the massive project, which includes instituting transferable electronic patient records and e-prescriptions, are behind schedule.

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