By Tony Collins
On 22 September 2011 the Department of Health announced the dismantling of the NPfIT. As the press release was being issued some officials at the department were aware that they were continuing to spend tens of millions on central administrative costs of the programme.
Today’s report of the Public Accounts Committee has a figure for the central costs of the NPfIT until the end of March 2012 of about £890m. Before the DH announced the dismantling of the programme, in March 2011, the DH put the central costs at £817m.
So there has been a rise in central admin costs of about £70m since the NPfIT was supposedly dismantled.
The administrative costs are separate from spending on the contracts with BT or CSC. The admin costs don’t include the delivery of a single laptop to the NHS under the NPfIT. They are simply the central costs of administering the programme – including day rates for consultants – such as day rates of £1,700 to help senior officials prepare for appearances before MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.
The central costs have never been explained, not even by the National Audit Office which has published several reports on the NPfIT. It is known that some central costs are explained by items of questionable benefit such as the commissioning of DVD films that marketed the NPfIT.
Some of the cost categories have emerged as a result of an FOI request (below). Officials made regular visits to various parts of the globe to promote the success of the NPfIT. It’s thought that the DH has spent more than £100m on consultants for the programme.
Millions of pounds have been spent with public relations companies. The DH spent about £30,000 on press cuttings in two years alone. Released central costs for just two years of the NPfIT between 2005 and 2007 include:
- £1.23m with Expotel Hotel Reservations
- £1.87 Harry Weeks Business Travel
- BT conferencing – £1.15m
- Intercall video conferencing – £274,973
- MWB (Serviced Offices) – £15.8m
- Regus – offices and meeting rooms – £3.17m
- Spring International Express (courier and other services) – £192, 662
- Cision UK (press cuttings) – £30,000
- Fishburn Hedges (includes public relations) – £559,310
- Good Relations (public relations] – £1.55m
- Porter Novelli (public relations and information) – £943,000
- ASE Consulting – £31.7m
- Capgemini – £15m
- Deloitte MCS – £42.8m
- Atos Consulting – £32.3m
- Gartner – £3.8m
- QI Consulting – £14.5m
- Tribal Consulting – £6.9m
Central administrative costs of nearly £900m on a single IT programme are breathtaking. That makes the National Programme for IT in the NHS one of the world’s largest public sector IT projects – before a penny has been spent on deliveries of hardware or software to the NHS.
It’s almost as surprising that not even the National Audit Office has been able to obtain a breakdown. Has central spending been properly controlled? Perhaps not, given that the DH, even this year, spent up to £1,700 a day on consultants to brief a senior official for a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee in June 2013.
Maybe the taxpayer should be grateful that the consultants were hired for only 52 days between February and June 2013 to prepare for the Committee’s hearing, and that the DH managed to renegotiate the day rate down from £1,714 to £1,000 a day between April and June.
Maybe the taxpayer should be grateful that the total cost of the consultancy for preparing for the PAC hearing was only £73,563.
But the £73,563 was spent after the DH estimated its central administrative costs on the NPfIT at nearly £900m – which are costs up to 31 March 2012.
It’s also remarkable that some at the DH still consider the NPfIT a success. This was the NAO’s conclusions on the NPfIT in its May 2011 report on the NPfIT Care Records Service:
“Central to achieving the Programme’s aim of improving services and the quality of patient care, was the successful delivery of an electronic patient record for each NHS patient. Although some care records systems are in place, progress against plans has fallen far below expectations and the Department has not delivered care records systems across the NHS, or with anywhere near the completeness of functionality that will enable it to achieve the original aspirations of the Programme.
“The Department has also significantly reduced the scope of the Programme without a proportionate reduction in costs, and is in negotiations to reduce it further still. So we are seeing a steady reduction in value delivered not matched by a reduction in costs.
“On this basis we conclude that the £2.7 billion spent on care records systems so far does not represent value for money, and we do not find grounds for confidence that the remaining planned spend of £4.3 billion will be different.”
But this was the Department of Health’s view on NPfIT Care Records Service value for money:
“The Department considers, however, that the money spent to date has not been wasted and will potentially deliver value for money… The Department believes that the flexibility provided by the future delivery model for the programme will deliver functionality that best fits the needs of the clinical and managerial community. The future architecture of the programme allows many sources of information to be connected together as opposed to assuming that all relevant information will be stored in a single system. This approach has been proven in other sectors and is fully consistent with the Government’s recently published ICT strategy.”
This contradiction between the DH’s view of the NPfIT, and the NAO’s, indicates, perhaps, that the DH continues to live in a world not entirely attached to reality.
From April 2013, the DH’s central team and some local programme teams responsible for the NPfIT moved to the Health and Social Care Information Centre which has taken over the local service provider contracts with BT and CSC. Will it be able to control central spending on the very-much-alive NPfIT?
The central costs could rise much further – possibly by more than £100m – if the eventual settlement of the legal case between the DH and Fujitsu works out badly for the taxpayer. Legal costs on the case so far are about £31m.
I am surprised that you seem surprised Tony.
This was plainly obvious to anyone who has had any dealings with mire that is CfH. The numbers of consultants running around looking busy at various meetings I have attended in Leeds and London was staggering. When I asked what all these people were doing I never got a clear answer but they did seem to be enjoying their work.
On a more serious note the reasons for this lunacy are clear. This project, as many have said from the get go, was doomed to fail. Not because it was an impossible task but because of the approach taken. Those in control, such as it was, were to arrogant to listen to what was being said and i think reveled in the control of such vast amounts of money. They were simply blinded to the truth. Another reason is that the NAO / PAC have or appear to have no teeth or power. They make statements, ask questions and eventually get answers but what happens afterwards? A few civil servants get embarrassed but that is it. Take Sir David Nicholson for example. He has effectively done a ‘Pontius Pilate’ walked away scott free, washed his hands of the whole mess. I heard him on radio 4 the other night talking about the £30bn shortfall. Well Sir David, if NPfIT and CfH had been canned at the right time, there may only have been a £16bn shortfall.
Similarly Mr Collins et al report these debacles across the public sector but who listens? Who acts? Who cares?