NHS IT programme "scrapped" – again

Government announces an "acceleration of the dismantling" of the National Programme for IT, repeating a similar statement made a year ago

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The government has announced "an acceleration of the dismantling of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT)", following yet another review into the troubled NHS IT scheme.

A review of the NPfIT by the Cabinet Office's Major Projects Authority (MPA) reiterated the view that central supervision of NHS IT is not beneficial. "It is no longer appropriate for a centralised authority to make decisions on behalf of local organisations," the Department of Health said in a statement.

The news has been widely as an end to the £12 billion NPfIT scheme. However, the Department of Health was clear that the systems implemented as part of NPfIT would continue to be used and maintained. The MPA's review found that around two thirds of NPfIT money has been spent successfully, with systems such as electronic patient record service Spine and online appointment booking systems Choose and Book delivering £6.4 billion in value.

Today's announcement echoes a similar proclamation made almost exactly a year ago. "The nationally imposed system is neither necessary nor appropriate," said then-health minister Simon Burns in September 2010. "We will allow hospitals to use and develop the IT they already have and add to their environment either by integrating systems purchased through the existing national contracts or elsewhere."

Earlier this year, a report by the  National Audit Office (NAO) concluded that NPfIT would not be able to deliver its central aim of making detailed medical records available across UK hospitals. "The original vision for the National Programme for IT in the NHS will not be realised," NAO head Amy Morse said at the time, an assertion that was reiterated today.

In a statement accompanying today's announcement, various spokespeople were quoted condeming the centralising ideology of NPfIT and by implication the Labour government that introduced it in 2002. "The National Programme for IT embodies the type of unpopular top-down programme that has been imposed on front-line NHS staff in the past," said Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.