By Tony Collins
Reading-based Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust says in an FOI response that its spending on “computer consultants since the inception of the EPR system is £16.6m”.
The Trust’s total spend on the Cerner Millennium system was said to have been £30m by October 2012.
NHS IT suppliers have told me that the typical cost of a Trust-wide EPR [electronic patient record] system, including support for five years, is about £6m-£8m, which suggests that the Royal Berkshire has spent £22m more than necessary on new patient record IT.
Jonathan Isaby, Taxpayers’ Alliance political director, said: “This is an astonishing amount of taxpayers’ money to have squandered on a system which is evidently failing to deliver results.
“Every pound lost to this project is a pound less available for frontline medical care. Those who were responsible for the failure must be held to account for their actions as this kind of waste cannot go unchecked.”
The £16.6m consultancy figure was uncovered this week through a Freedom of Information request made by The Reading Chronicle. It had asked for the spend on consultants working on the Cerner Millennium EPR [which went live later than expected in June 2012].
The Trust replied: “Further to your request for information the costs spent on computer consultants since the inception of the EPR system is £16.6m.”
The Chronicle says that the system is “meant to retrieve patient details in seconds, linking them to the availability of surgeons, beds or therapies, but has forced staff to spend up to 15 minutes navigating through multiple screens to book one routine appointment, leading to backlogs on wards and outpatient clinics”.
Royal Berkshire’s chief executive Edward Donald had said the Cerner Millennium go live was successful. A trust board paper said:
“The Chief Executive emphasised that, despite these challenges, the ‘go-live’ at the Trust had been more successful than in other Cerner Millennium sites.”
A similar, stronger message had appeared was in a separate board paper which was released under FOI. Royal Berkshire’s EPR [electronic patient record] Executive Governance Committee minutes said:
“… the Committee noted that the Trust’s launch had been considered to be the best implementation of Cerner Millennium yet and that despite staff misgivings, the project was progressing well. This positive message should also be disseminated…”
Royal Berkshire went outside the NPfIT. But its costs are even higher than the breathtakingly high costs to the taxpayer of NPfIT Cerner and Lorenzo implementations.
As senior officials at the Department of Health have been so careless with public funds over NHS IT – and have spent millions on the same sets of consultants – they are in no position to admonish Royal Berkshire.
So who can criticise Royal Berkshire and should its chief executive be held accountable?
When it’s official policy to spend tens of millions on EPRs that may or may not make things better for hospitals and patients – and could make things much worse – how can accountability play any part in the purchase of the systems and consultants?
The enormously costly Cerner and Lorenzo EPR implementations go on – in an NHS IT world that is largely without credible supervision, control, accountability or regulation.