By Tony Collins
A Department of Health press release issued this morning is headlined:
Dismantling the NHS National Programme for IT
I asked a senior official at the Department what is new in the announcement. The official’s diplomatic reply was simply: “I am not sure how to answer that.”
There is nothing new. There is no evidence in the press release of the Department’s claim that the NPfIT is being dismantled. Negotiations continue with CSC over its £3bn worth of NPfIT contracts and BT’s deals will remain in place.
Spending on the NPfIT has been about £6.4bn so far – and about £4bn has yet to be spent. The Government has succeeded in persuading some in the general public that the NPfIT is dead. The Daily Mail’s front page has the headline:
£12bn NHS Computer System is Scrapped
The online version of the story has had more than 460 comments, which suggests it has been widely read.
The actual announcement gives a hint of the conflicting views among civil service and ministers. The first paragraph of the Department of Health’s press release says the NPfIT is being dismantled and the second paragraph praises the scheme.
“The government today announced an acceleration of the dismantling of the National Programme for IT, following the conclusions of a new review by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority (MPA). The programme was created in 2002 under the last government and the MPA has concluded that it is not fit to provide the modern IT services that the NHS needs. In May 2011 the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons that the MPA would be reviewing the NHS National Programme for IT.
“The MPA found that there have been substantial achievements which are now firmly established, such as the Spine, N3 Network, NHSmail, Choose and Book, Secondary Uses Service and Picture Archiving and Communications Service. Their delivery accounts for around two thirds of the £6.4bn money spent so far and they will continue to provide vital support to the NHS. However, the review reported the National Programme for IT has not and cannot deliver to its original intent.”
The signs are that the scheme will be dismantled brick by brick – and will be almost completely dismantled by the time the NPfIT contracts with BT and CSC expire in 2013 and 2014. The coalition has achieved a PR coup with the Daily Mail story because the public has the impression that in these austere times a £12bn NHS IT scheme initiated by Labour has been scrapped.
The reality is that nothing has changed.