By Tony Collins
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning reported a Daily Mail article that the National Programme for IT in the NHS is being scrapped and that a coalition announcement is to be made this morning.
The Mail says that the money spent on the NPfIT would pay for 60,000 nurses for a decade, and that the scheme will be replaced by a “cheaper alternative”.
It says that there will be a new urgency in “dismantling the scheme”. Campaign4Change told the BBC R4 Today programme this morning that the NPfIT is not being scrapped and that about £4bn has yet to be spent on it. It said that trusts have the freedom to buy their own IT systems but using their budgets. The NPfIT will continue to provide Cerner and Lorenzo systems that are subsidised centrally, which gives the NHS an incentive to continue using NPfIT.
There is a difference of opinion within Whitehall over the NPfIT: that the Cabinet Office takes a rigorously independent view of the NPfIT and wants to wind it down. The Department of Health’s civil servants at a press conference last year justified the spend on the programme and said the contracts with CSC and BT would continue. Campaign4Change told Today that the Cabinet Office should have the final say, not the Department of Health.
The Government clearly wishes it to be known that the NPfIT is being scrapped but that is not what is happening in practice. Contracts with CSC, which at present are worth about £3.2bn, are unlikely to be scrapped because of the compensation that would have to be paid to the supplier. The contracts may be cut back by about £800m, though the cost of deployments remaining may double. BT’s contracts worth more than £1bn are also likely to remain.
The Daily Mail says the NPfIT will be “replaced with cheaper regional alternatives” and that the Coalition will “today announce it is putting a halt to years of scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money on a system that never worked”.
“Following an official review, the ‘one size fits all’ IT project will be replaced by much cheaper regional initiatives, with hospitals and GPs choosing the IT system they need.
“And a new national watchdog will be established to ensure such huge sums can never again be thrown away on uncosted projects.”
The decision to accelerate the dismantling of the scheme has been made by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, says the Mail.
It quotes from what appears to be a leaked memo from the Major Projects Authority of the Cabinet Office which has been reviewing CSC’s contracts.
“The authority said the IT scheme, set up in 2002, is not fit to provide services to the NHS – which as part of austerity measures has to make savings of £20billion by 2014/15.
It concluded: ‘There can be no confidence that the programme has delivered or can be delivered as originally conceived.’
The report is said to recommend that the Government “dismember the programme and reconstitute it under new management and organisation arrangements”.
It added: “The project has not delivered in line with the original intent as targets on dates, functionality, usage and levels of benefit have been delayed and reduced.
“It is not possible to identify a documented business case for the whole of the programme.Unless the work is refocused it is hard to see how the perception can ever be shifted from the faults of the past and allowed to progress effectively to support the delivery of effective healthcare.”