8 October 2003 The first big IT contract in the huge £2.3 billion modernisation of the UK’s National Health Service has been awarded to SchlumbergerSema, the IT services company that was recently sold to Dutch company Atos Origin.
The contract, worth £64.5 million over five years, is to build and run booking systems that will link more than 30,000 doctor’s surgeries to about 270 hospitals. The systems will allow patients as well as doctors to book appointments online and to choose their own hospitals.
The process of choosing the suppliers for this and other NHS contracts has become highly controversial, partly because of the sums involved and partly because of the rigorous conditions and penalties for underperformance laid down by Richard Granger, the hard-nosed head of the NHS IT modernisation programme.
In September, EDS dropped out of the bidding for the patient booking system, leaving just SchlumbergerSema and Fujitsu Services to battle it out for business. EDS was apparently ruled out of the bidding because it refused to agree to the stiff penalty clauses demanded by Granger.
Work on the booking systems will begin immediately and should be completed by mid 2005.
The SchlumbergerSema deal is just the start. During the next few months, the NHS will announce a series of similar IT contracts at both local and national level. SchlumbergerSema itself is in the process of being acquired by Franco-Dutch services group Atos Origin, two-and-a-half years after being bought by energy giant Schlumberger.