By Tony Collins
On Wednesday (12 June 2013) MPs on the Public Accounts Committee questioned officials on the National Programme for IT.
One of the officials was Sir David Nicholson, Chief executive of NHS in England. Another was Tim Donohoe, senior responsible owner, local service provider programmes.
Donohoe has worked for NHS Connecting for Health since 2003, initially for a few months as a contractor. He answered most of the questions on the NPfIT.
Near the end of the hearing Conservative Steve Barclay asked Sir David: “Did you or anyone else employ any third parties on short-term contracts to support you in preparing for today’s hearing?”
Sir David looked surprised. “Did I?” he asked.
Barclay: “Were any people outside the NHS hired – contractors or consultants – to help you prepare with today’s hearing?”
“Yes,” said Donohoe. “I had someone to assist me who has assisted on previous hearings.”
Barclay: “So could we get a note with a breakdown? What sort of daily rate are they on?”
Donohoe: “I can’t recall the figure but I will write to you.”
Barclay: “Ball park?”
Donohoe: “I am sorry I cannot recall.”
Barclay: “If you hired them it seems a bit strange you wouldn’t know how much you are paying them. So you hired some people to come in and help coach you?”
Donohoe: “One person – no, not to coach, just to assist with the preparation.”
Barclay: “Can we have a detailed note of any payments made to people outside the NHS as part of preparing, coaching or whatever it may have been ahead of today’s hearing?”
Does it matter if taxpayers paid for Donohoe to have outside help to prepare for Wednesday’s Public Accounts Committee hearing on the NPfIT? Perhaps this assistance for an important hearing was wisely sought and bought. After all the programme is the world’s largest non-military IT scheme and has many complex strands.
Or does the hiring of outside help for a Parliamentary hearing suggest a mindset within the Department of Health that, when it comes to the NPfIT, there are few real limits on spending?