Dismantling Labour’s disastrous £12 billion NHS IT programme may cost taxpayers more than keeping it going.Ministers announced on Thursday that they will speed up the scrapping of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) after a review concluded “there can be no confidence that the programme has delivered or can be delivered as originally conceived”.
It confirmed earlier reports that the central part of the scheme, allowing NHS staff across England to access any patient’s details, was unworkable while costs had increases and deadlines were missed.
The governance board of the programme will now be scrapped, and local trusts will be given the freedom to develop their own versions of the electronic care record rather than having the rules dictated by Whitehall. A new Cabinet Office oversight committee will monitor future IT investment to ensure money is not wasted.
But many trusts across England have large contracts with private suppliers to supply their care record systems, and their cancellation could leave taxpayers even more out of pocket.
The Department of Health’s own chief information officer, Christine Connelly, told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee in May that a £3bn deal with CSC to deliver systems in the north, midlands and east of England would cost more to get out of than to keep going.
She said: “Potentially, if you ask me about the absolute maximum, we could be exposed to a higher cost than the cost to complete the contract as it stands today.”
A decision will be made on the future of the contract later in the autumn.
However the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority said that some parts of the £12.7bn programme had worked and would be retained, including the NHSmail email system and the Choose and Book process of arranging hospital referrals.
Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, said: “Labour’s NHS IT Programme let down the NHS and wasted taxpayers’ money by imposing a top-down IT system on the local NHS, which didn’t fit their needs.
“We will be moving to an innovative new system driven by local decision-making. This is the only way to make sure we get value for money from IT systems that better meet the needs of a modernised NHS.”
Roger Goss, co-director of the pressure group Patient Concern said: “Thank goodness politicians have decided to stop money being poured into a huge bottomless pit. Now we must pray that they don’t sanction pouring it into endless incompatible regional pits.”