By Tony Collins
Several people have asked us whether the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority will cancel CSC’s NPfIT contract or whether draft memorandum of understanding between the Department of Health and the supplier will be finalised and signed.
The position is that a deal with CSC has not yet been agreed – and it’s not clear when it will be. Recommendations from the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority have gone to David Cameron, according to yesterday’s Observer.
We’ve also been asked whether the The Major Projects Authority has any authority over CSC’s NPfIT contracts.
In January Downing Street gave the Cabinet Office a mandate to “intervene” in projects that are poor value for money, have hit delays or are failing. If there’s a dispute between the Major Projects Authority and a department, the Cabinet Office can ask David Cameron for a decision. So if the Major Projects Authority wants to cancel the CSC NPfIT contract it can – up to a point.
If the DH doesn’t agree, and it probably wouldn’t, it would be up to Cameron, who would probably back the Cabinet Office’s decision. It would then be the DH that dealt with the consequences.
The Major Projects Authority is under a clear-thinking Australian David Pitchford who is understands what goes wrong with big IT projects and why. He reports to Ian Watmore who also has a good understanding.
These are some of the reasons Pitchford gives for failing government IT-based projects:
Most of these apply to the NPfIT.
One view about what should happen is that at least the part of the CSC contract that relates to acute hospitals should be cancelled, and the NHS should be under no further contractual obligation to buy from CSC – that was always an artificial device. CSC should be under no further obligation to deliver to the NHS.
CSC’s obligation has been a means of Whitehall, through CSC, maintaining some control over trusts and justifying a large central team. End that obligation and you don’t need a large central team. Last week’s Public Accounts Committee report on the NPfIT detailed care records systems said that NHS CfH has 1,300 people.
Whatever happens CSC will maintain a strong presence in the NHS, at least through its purchase of iSoft. Many trusts with iSoft systems are likely to replace them with iSoft – CSC – products. Patient administration systems are huge investments and changing them can be risky.
EC procurement rules mean that trusts will need to go open tender when their existing contracts expire but some will find ways of awarding new contracts to existing suppliers, if that’s their wish.
So CSC’s future in the NHS is assured, whatever happens with its NPfIT contracts.