By Tony Collins
“Too many failing projects are continued for too long” – Ian Watmore, House of Commons, 2009.
HealthSpace, a centrally-run system that has, for years, provided unneeded work for consultants based at Connecting for Health, software developers, civil servants, and IT suppliers, at a cost of tens of millions of pounds, is to close “from” March 2013.
A report commissioned by the Department of Health and NHS Connecting for Health in 2010 found that the system had never worked satisfactorily. But the Department and CfH has kept the project going, paying consultants and IT suppliers, although it was clear from an early stage that the scheme was doomed.
Will the Department of Health continue paying consultants and IT suppliers for a system that is to be cancelled?
HealthSpace was designed to be a personal health organiser. It was based on a good idea – that some patients could benefit from access to their health records – but the technology was too complicated and never fit for the public to use. It is said that those involved in the project spoke in a technological, managerial and procurement language – and rarely mentioned patients.
The Guardian this week reports Charles Gutteridge, national clinical director for informatics at the Department of Health, as saying that Healthspace is “too difficult to make an account; it is too difficult to log on; it is just too difficult.”
The Department of Health later told The Guardian that Healthspace would be closed down “from” March 2013.
In 2010 a report by Trisha Greenhalgh and her team, The devil’s in the detail, which was commissioned by CfH, found that HealthSpace had involved professional advisers, software developers, security testing contractors, business managers who wrote the benefits realisation cases, lawyers who advised on privacy and regulatory matters and many others.
Yet the system was doomed from the start. Greenhalgh’s report in May 2010 revealed that:
“Project leads from participating NHS organisations repeatedly raised concerns with Connecting for Health in monthly management meetings about the low uptake of advanced HealthSpace accounts, since the benefits predicted, such as lower NHS costs and patient driven improvements to data quality, could not possibly be achieved unless the technology was used.”
It’s not known how many millions has been wasted – and continues to be wasted – on Healthspace; and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the continuance of the scheme benefits nobody except those who are paid to work on it, which includes contractors and IT suppliers.
Why is the scheme to be cancelled “from” 2013, when it should have been cancelled when Trisha Greenhalgh and her team produced their report in May 2010?
Shouldn’t ministers have some control – especially given that we are supposed to be in an age of public sector austerity? Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office and former Government CIO, has said that failing projects are continued for too long. He said that in 2009. So isn’t it time ministers and particularly civil servants applied the principle of ‘fail early, fail cheaply‘?
In 2010 ComputerworldUK had an account of how Healthspace was being kept alive unnecessarily.