Health

Local NHS bodies to get more say over IT

  • 22 September 2011
  • From the section Health
A hospital waiting room
The Commons public accounts committee criticised the IT programme in a report in July

The NHS national IT system is "not fit" to provide the computer services needed by the health service in England, a government review has said.

It was announced last year that £700m savings would be made to the programme, and that local NHS bodies would be able to make their own IT plans.

But a Cabinet Office review has now recommended the programme's national board should also be scrapped.

The report said the scheme had had some "substantial achievements".

It was set up in 2002, and aimed to link all parts of the NHS in England. But it became known for delay and expense.

Ministers reconfigured the scheme last year.

Overall costs were cut from £12.7bn to £11.4bn, on top of £600m of savings already announced by the previous Labour government.

All existing contracts for parts of the IT programme will be honoured. But individual hospitals will buy in computer systems themselves - as long as they fit with the national structure.

And Connecting for Health, the NHS body which has been overseeing the introduction of the new IT systems, will remain.

The successes of the scheme - which the Cabinet Office's Major Projects Authority says account for about two-thirds of the £6.4bn spent so far - include the "choose and book" system, where patients can select when and where they receive treatment, and NHSmail, an email service via which NHS staff can exchange patient information.

'Top-down'

Announcing the axing of the NHS IT programme's board, a Department of Health statement said: "The National Programme for IT achieved much in terms of infrastructure and this will be maintained, along with national applications such as the summary care record and electronic prescriptions service, which are crucial to improving patient safety and efficiency.

"But we need to move on from a top down approach and instead provide information systems driven by local decision-making."

Further details of how the IT programme will work in future will be announced later in the year.

In July, the Commons public accounts committee criticised the programme for "no longer delivering a universal system".

It said the original objective was to ensure every NHS patient had an individual electronic care record which could be rapidly transmitted between different parts of the NHS.

But its report concluded: "This intention has proved beyond the capacity of the department to deliver and the department is no longer delivering a universal system.

"Implementation of alternative up-to-date IT systems has fallen significantly behind schedule and costs have escalated."

The NHS in Wales has said it is creating a localised IT system based around GP records, to be shared with local providers, rather than a system that can be share nationally, as in England.

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