31 August 2004 The UK government’s £6.2 billion NHS IT programme is to be investigated by public spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO).
The government had initially set aside £2.3 billion to be spent on the programme up to 2006, and has asked the NAO to investigate whether current commitments will deliver value for money.
The National Programme for IT, the biggest civil IT programme in the world, will give 55 million patients in England an electronic record. This will improve record keeping and ensure that medics have the best information available about patients.
But the size of the project, combined with the government’s dubious record on large IT deployments, has raised concerns. For the system to work, 8,000 surgeries, 240 hospitals, 100,000 doctors and 380,000 nurses will need to be connected
A recent survey of doctors also showed that two thirds were seriously worried about patient confidentiality, fearing that hackers will gain access to their records.
The NAO normally only intervenes when there is evidence that schemes are going wrong. But a spokesman said that that the investigation did not imply any criticism of the project to date.
“We are starting now because it appears to us that, with the letting of the major contracts and the beginning of the inevitably long process of implementation, it is a good moment for Parliament to be given a stock-take and a forward look.”
A spokesman for the NHS said the scheme would affect everyone in England and so it was ‘only natural, and it has always been expected, that the programme would be the subject of an NAO report.
The Conservatives welcomed the investigation, saying it was necessary to protect the taxpayer from a repeat of government failures in previous major IT projects.