By Tony Collins
Techmarketview analyst Tola Sargeant who has followed the NPfIT closely, and particularly the ups and downs of CSC, says the implications for CSC of the government’s tough stance against the company are “dire”. She adds:
“Indeed, we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see CSC change hands in 2012 as a result”.
Maude gets tough
Within the Department of Health and CSC in May last year executives were confident a new memorandum of understanding under the NPfIT would be signed.
Now the Government, in the form of the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, has declined so far to sign any new deal with CSC. This is the way CSC put it in a filing to the SEC, the US regulators, on 27 December 2011:
“… Since mid-November 2011, the parties [Department of Health, Cabinet Office and CSC) have been engaged in further discussions relating to the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding], which have included discussions regarding a proposed contract amendment with different scope modifications and contract value reductions than those contemplated by the MOU.
“However, CSC recently was informed that neither the MOU nor the contract amendment then under discussion would be approved by the government.
“Notwithstanding the failure to reach agreement, CSC anticipates that the parties will continue discussions in January 2012 regarding proposals advanced by both parties reflecting scope modifications and contract value reductions that differ materially from those contemplated by the MOU.
“As a result of the circumstances described above, CSC has concluded, as of the date of this filing, that it will be required to recognize a material impairment of its net investment in the contract in the third quarter of fiscal year 2012.
“Until CSC and NHS conclude their on-going discussions concerning a possible contract amendment, including any scope modifications and contract value reductions that might be part of any such amendment, the Company is unable to estimate the amount of such impairment.
“However, depending on the terms of such an amendment or if no amendment is concluded, such impairment could be equal to the Company’s net investment in the contract, which, as of November 30, 2011, was approximately £943m ($1.5bn).
“Additional costs could be incurred by CSC depending on the nature of such an amendment, or if no amendment is concluded. The Company is unable to estimate the amount of such additional costs; however, such costs could be material.”
Why the Cabinet Office has left draft MoU unsigned?
The non-signing of a new deal with CSC is the firmest indication so far that the Cabinet Office is prepared to bring a rigorous, independent scrutiny to big IT projects and contracts.
Though the DH had wanted to sign a new deal with CSC, at least to assure continued support and upgrades to the few NHS trusts that have installed CSC and iSoft’s “Lorenzo” patient records system, Maude is said to have seen a new deal with CSC as rewarding the company for failings in the past.
Also Cabinet Office officials regarded the terms of a new deal with CSC as unattractive. One Cabinet Office official wrote in a memo dated March 2011 that CSC’s proposals would mean a reduction in Trusts using CSC IT from the original number of 220 Trusts to 80.
“My view is that, on the face of it, while the additional savings are appealing, the offer is unattractive. This is because the unit price of deployment (per Trust) under offer roughly doubles the cost of each deployment from the original contract.
“Ultimately, we [Cabinet Office] are not convinced the [Department of] Health commercial team are approaching this in the best way.”
It is possible that a new deal for signing was put before Maude – and went unsigned. Had any appeal gone to the Prime Minister David Cameron it is highly likely he would have given his full backing to Maude.
David Cameron’s view?
Cameron may be delighted that at least £2bn remains uncommitted to the NPfIT and could be saved by not signing a new deal with CSC.
Conservative MP Richard Bacon, a member of the Public Accounts Committee who has become an authority on the NPfIT, said of CSC’s warning of write-offs on the Programme:
“It was always a worry that the Department of Health was initially keen to sign a new deal with CSC that would have been poor value. Now it seems the Cabinet Office has done its job as an independent scrutineer and has made sure the interests of taxpayers are protected.
“This shows how important it is for the Cabinet Office to have the final say on big Government IT-based projects.”
What does CSC’s plight mean for the NHS?
NHS trusts have long wanted open competitive tendering and now, to a large extent, they have it. More than a dozen acute trusts are likely to tender for major systems replacements this year which is a big increase on the annual rate for past years.
Some iSoft and Cerner sites may also seek to renew contracts or find replacement systems. CSC, which may be lifted of the burden of meeting high-priced NPfIT commitments, may be a strong competitor in the UK health market.
One problem for NHS trusts will be finding enough strong candidates for their shortlists. They may look to the US market – but end up with products that need anglicising, which will be risky process.
Techmarketview says that what is doom and gloom for CSC is an opportunity for others. Rival suppliers “will be cheered by the prospect of more NHS Trusts procuring systems that CSC should have delivered by now”.