“They harass my staff, they hound my people, they cause trouble by getting hold of out-of-date documents. A lot of management time is spent putting the record straight.”
It takes a lot of confidence to take on the press, but Richard Granger, the IT director-general of the NHS, appears to be bubbling over with the stuff at the moment. Although not one screen in a grand £6 billion project has yet been turned on, it is, we are told, on time and budget.
Granger’s achievements so far have earned him international admiration. But not so much in the UK, where some, particularly some sections of the media (perhaps briefed by disgruntled suppliers who failed to win any of the lucrative projects) have taken their customary sceptical stance.
A variety of apparent problems with the NHS IT programme – reputed to be the biggest ever IT project in the UK public sector – have surfaced. One common charge is that Granger’s various different IT suppliers, including BT and Accenture, lack cohesion and central co-ordination; another, that GPs and hospital staff were inadequately consulted and will fail to use the new systems when they are eventually switched on. There are also legal questions, such as whether patients should be given the right to opt out of the patient records database.
At Gartner’s integration and web services conference in Amsterdam earlier in June, Granger let his frustrations show. Asked about risk, he noted that it is a peculiarly British trait to thrive on failure. “Since we lost our empire, we tend to need to beat ourselves up regularly,” he joked, before adding “a couple of journalists definitely want to see this fail”.
Those same journalists might argue, of course, that they have spent years being fobbed off by IT project managers who were quietly wasting huge sums of taxpayer’s money – and that it is their duty and role to be both persistent and sceptical. But Granger insists they are missing a bigger story: that this huge and unprecedented project will be a success. He will be determined to show that pride in what has been achieved so far does not precede a fall.