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Watchdog to launch further NHS IT inquiry

The topic has not yet been set, although the National Audit Office says that a series of reports on the multibillion pound project is likely
Written by Dan Ilett, Contributor

The public sector's spending watchdog is to launch another inquiry into the NHS' multibillion pound computer overhaul.

The decision comes just weeks after the press published a leaked government document that said hospitals would be "better off" without a national IT upgrade. Those comments followed disruptions to computer services in 80 hospital trusts after the power supply to a data centre was interrupted.

A spokesman for the National Audit Office (NAO), which is to carry out the report, said the topic has not yet been set: "With a large ongoing project like this there will be a series of reports. We are in the early stages but there wouldn't be a report until next year."

This summer, healthcare software company iSoft's rollout for the clinical records software at the heart of the programme was criticised, a review finding there is "no believable plan" for its development - as the company's financial solidity was also questioned.

The last NAO report on the NHS IT project, published in June, concluded that costs are likely to reach £12.4bn by 2014.

That figure includes the £6.2bn for the main fixed-price IT contracts; £382m for new projects; £239m on additional services; and £1.9bn on other expenditure by NHS Connecting for Health (CfH) on centrally managed projects and services. Another £337m will go on replacing core contracts which expire before the end of the 10-year period to 2014, and £3.4bn in expenditure by local NHS organisations on IT and training.

The report said: "The speed of the negotiations and the inclusion of a sound balance of incentives and penalties within the contracts have put NHS CfH in a strong position in its relationships with suppliers and one that is stronger than previous government procurement practice."

It added that the NHS should tell staff how and when the project will affect them, so setbacks and changes of priority do not cause a loss of confidence.

Director general of NHS IT Richard Granger said at the time: "If this was easy it would have been done years ago. Computerising the NHS is something that has proved elusive for several previous programmes. We have not repeated the mistakes of the past."

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