A core component of the NHS IT programme is to be scrapped next month, according to a government source quoted in the Independent newspaper.
“We want to give control over decisions about new systems to the local NHS, rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all solution," the source is reported to have said. “It means change can happen without ripping out entire existing systems, making that change more manageable, and, given the fast pace of technological change, greater ability to exploit the new innovations.”
The claim follows a damning report from the Public Affairs Committee, based on the findings of the National Audit Office’s recent investigation into the programme’s progress.
“The Department [of Health has] acknowledged that it will not now deliver care records systems to all NHS organisations under the programme and that its original aim will not be fulfilled,” the PAC found.
It made specific mention of CSC, the supplier responsible for delivering the care records systems for many NHS trusts.
“CSC … has so far delivered very few of the systems it was contracted to supply,” said PAC chair Margaret Hodge MP in a statement. “We are concerned that CSC should not be rewarded for its failure with an effective monopoly in the provision of care records systems in the North, Eastern and Midlands cluster, since this could leave many Trusts with little choice but to continue with outdated interim systems that could be very expensive to maintain and to upgrade.”
In response to the Independent’s story, a Department of Health spokesperson told Information Age: "The centrally delivered approach has not worked. We need to ensure that we deliver the best value for money, which may involve renegotiating current contracts. [The Department’s] position will be made clear in the Autumn"
This is not the first time the current government has said it will decentralise the NHS IT programme.
In September 2010, a Department of Health review concluded that “a centralised, national approach is no longer required, and that a more locally-led plural system of procurement should operate, whilst continuing with national applications already procured”.
“Improving IT is essential to delivering a patient-centred NHS. But the nationally imposed system is neither necessary nor appropriate to deliver this,” then-health minister Simon Burns said at the time. “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”.
What that meant in practice was the termination of one project worth £700 million. The most recent NAO report found that the measures undertaken to limit the scope of the programme under the current government had destroyed more value than they had reduced cost.
Shortly after that report was published, Department of Health CIO Christine Connolly resigned from her post.