Pull plug on NHS e-records - MPs


Andrew Lansley says the IT system is being changed "to one genuinely led by the NHS organisations themselves"

Ministers should consider pulling the plug on the central part of the NHS IT programme in England, MPs say.

The Public Accounts Committee said mounting problems with the electronic records system were making the £7bn project "unworkable".

The group said the scheme - aimed at reducing the use of paper files - was beset by delays and uncertainty.

If it was stopped, the remaining budget could then be spent on a better system, they said.

E-records are part of the overall £11.4bn IT programme.

The scheme was launched in 2002 with the aim of revolutionising the way the health service uses technology.

It includes developments such as digital X-rays and fast internet connections.

Under the e-records scheme, every patient was to get an electronic file that could be used when they were treated in the NHS.

Start Quote

Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable”

End Quote Margaret Hodge Public Accounts Committee chairman

The MPs said it was a "worthwhile aim, but one that has proved beyond the capacity" of government to deliver.

It has already been announced that the scheme will no longer be universal, and large chunks of the NHS have now opted out - in London, no GP and few hospitals will take part.

This scaling back means it is up to local health chiefs to develop their own systems that will be compatible with the national one.

But the MPs warned there was no clear indication from government about how this could work or what the extra costs would be.

They also highlighted the lack of value that the government was getting from suppliers.

One example cited included services being provided by BT which were costing £9m to introduce on each site, despite the parts of the NHS outside the programme only paying £2m for the same system.

Coupled to this were the ongoing and costly delays - it is already six years behind schedule - and problems where e-records have been installed, the MPs added.

And with £2.7bn spent so far on e-records, they suggested it might be time to plough the rest of the budget into something else.

'Massive risk'

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: "Trying to create a one-size-fits-all system in the NHS was a massive risk and has proven to be unworkable.

"It should now urgently review whether it is worth continuing with the remaining elements of the care records system."

She said if it was stopped officials could then use the remaining £4.3bn to buy other systems that were proven to work and provided good value for money.

However, whether this is possible remains unclear as the committee was told it might cost more to escape from the contracts than fulfil them.

The Tories were highly critical of the IT programme in opposition and since forming the coalition government costs have been reduced.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley blamed the problems on the system inherited from Labour.

He said the committee findings would be considered alongside an internal government review which is currently being carried out.

"We will shortly announce our plans for even stronger action to deliver value for money for taxpayers and the NHS."

But he added: "It is not a situation which we can simply walk away [from]."

Unfortunately there seems to have been a technical problem with our comments facility on this story and many comments have been lost. Our sincere apologies to you if your comment is no longer there.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Re 72. Thanks for putting me straight TMR.
    Except you forgot that the massive doctor pay increases you mention - the minister was Patricia Hewitt methinks - also came with about £1/2 million extra pension liability - per doctor!
    Nice work if you can get it.
    Hewitt I read became a consultant or such to Alliance Boots and Cinven hospitals. Also nice work if you can get it. And so Nu Labour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    66.nieuw divil
    ......The whole system is corrupt and needs privatising now!

    Privatisation is the last thing that the NHS needs, and although I am sure that is what the Tories would love to do with it, I seem to remember David Cameron saying that the NHS was safe with him. I am seriously having doubts that anything is safe in his hands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Unfortunately there seems to have been a technical problem with our comments facility on this story and many comments have been lost. Our sincere apologies to you if your comment is no longer there.
    So my witty, insightful and groundbreaking solution to this crisis has been lost.
    Would make a sarcastic comment about IT systems, but you know what, it is so nice to get an apology. Thanks Beeb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    well I think it's a good system no matter the £9M cost(not much per UK resident is it). my mum(88) was in A& E after a bad fall on Sunday & all they needed was her name & address & hey presto all her health info was there for the doctor including her medication & allergy info. Think how much time & stress this saves the patient, not having to go through all the actual details required!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    With the money the Government save on cancelling this NHS system they can maybe afford the national computer system needed to run Universal Credit due to go live in 24 months.
    The UC system is due to merge and run a large number of current national welfare benefits and integrate in real time with the HMRC database. Not much confidence in that happening to time or budget.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Total Mass Retain @69
    Is there "no telling"?

    Need we wonder how "we" stray?

    Corruption bad enough, without stubborn folly!

    More to healthcare than at reception desk or in paperless GP's few minutes data-input

    Complexity / danger ends GP 'process' - off to hospital

    Find a friendly specialist - then talk to all of the other specialists, & associated professions.. Then re-BOOT!

    Pros & cons !

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    classic newlabour shoring money at a problem and thinking they dould buy a result.

    what a waste.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    ichabod @68
    On "record spending"

    AfA @35 NHS IT only explicable as:

    1. Something other than admitting over-load and training-neglect - eventually obliged by scandals to afford at least European 'lower productivity'

    2. Something that sounds (electorally) exciting and sure-fire - even if just half a pregnancy!

    3. Something to boost UK (?) IT-industry - a springboard to pre-eminence!


  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    And anyway, how many times would someone in eg Bolton need to know the medical records of someone in eg Brighton? Almost never I suggest"

    Because a retired person in Brighton is visiting grandchildren in Bolton and is taken ill. Or because a Brighton resident is involved in a multi car pileup in fog on the M6 and gets taken to Bolton A&E. Or they're hiking in Bowland and break a leg.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Absolutely disgusting when you consider how many frontline staff, new hospitals or lifesaving drugs that £7bn could have funded."

    Alternatively it could have done enormous good as part of the international aid budget to bring basic needs to the billion or so starving in the world. Or maybe used to pay subsidies EU farmers to produce food we don't need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    All the public ever get to hear are claims that the centralised system is unsuitable. It is time we get to know the reasons why.
    Is this a political battle between those who want an NHS and those who want to break it apart?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    "nieuw divil
    64 And yet your precious Labour government "

    what makes you think it's "precious" to me? I didn't vote for it. What you need to recognise is that someone challenging your unbalanced views and pointing out your selective grasp of history is not a prima facie reason to believe they support the views you disagree with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I can't even get my local hospital to send me stuff by email. It has to be handwritten, typed on heded paper, faxed, etc. And that's just to ask me to make an appointment!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Is this what Nu Labour and Gordon Brown meant by "record spending on the NHS"?"

    No that was Tony Blair proclaiming he was proud we had the highest paid GPs in Europe when he'd just cut a "wonderful" deal with them for paying them lots more to do a lot less and then adding more money to pay the GPs even more to do the work they'd just agreed to stop. You couldn't make it up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Projects like this don't plan for technology obsolescence. 10 years ago when it was specified, a Windows/XP laptop was the state of the art as the user machine. Now, near deployment there are a proliferation of user devices: tablets, PCs (Win7, Linux, Macs), PDAs, mobile phones etc. Plus the networking and back end technologies have all moved on. Change has to be planned in not added on at cost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    My expereince of these programmes is that
    a) they are very expensive but sexy so therefore
    b) top managers have to be involved which means
    c) the actual people who will use the service are not involved which means
    d) they are never really fit for purpose

    And anyway, how many times would someone in eg Bolton need to know the medical records of someone in eg Brighton? Almost never I suggest

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.


    It was always doomed to failure as companies like Accenture who were awarded these massive contracts had no idea how the health service works."

    IT vendors don't know how banks, retailers, insurers, commodities traders, airlines and most other industries work but successfully deliver highly scalable, mission critical systems for all of these on time, to specification and to budget.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Is this what Nu Labour and Gordon Brown meant by "record spending on the NHS"?
    Nice to know our taxes were used so efficiently.

  • Comment number 67.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    64 And yet your precious Labour government did nothing to change the system but merely leapt on the gravy train and heaped failure upon disaster upon failure for their 13 years in power.

    The whole system is corrupt and needs privatising now!


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