By Tony Collins
Ben Bradshaw, Caroline Flint and Andy Burnham have in common in their political past something they probably wouldn’t care to draw attention to as they battle for roles in the Labour leadership.
Few people will remember that Bradshaw, Flint and Burnham were advocates – indeed staunch defenders – of what’s arguably the biggest IT-related failure of all time – the £10bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT.
Perhaps it’s unfair to mention their support for such a massive failure at the time of the leadership election.
A counter argument is that politicians should be held to account at some point for public statements they have made in Parliament in defence of a major project – in this case the largest non-military IT-related programme in the world – that many inside and outside the NHS recognised was fundamentally flawed from its outset in 2003.
Bradshaw, Flint and Burnham did concede in their NPfIT-related statements to the House of Commons that the national programme for IT had its flaws, but still they gave it their strong support and continued to attack the programme’s critics.
The following are examples of statements made by Bradshaw, Flint and Burnham in the House of Commons in support of the NPfIT, which was later abandoned.
Bradshaw, then health minister in charge of the NPfIT, told the House of Commons in February 2008:
“We accept that there have been delays, not only in the roll-out of summary care records, but in the whole NHS IT programme.
“It is important to put on record that those delays were not because of problems with supply, delivery or systems, but pretty much entirely because we took extra time to consult on and try to address record safety and patient confidentiality, and we were absolutely right to do so…
“The health service is moving from being an organisation with fragmented or incomplete information systems to a position where national systems are integrated, record keeping is digital, patients have unprecedented access to their personal health records and health professionals will have the right information at the right time about the right patient.
“As the Health Committee has recognised in its report, the roll-out of new IT systems will save time and money for the NHS and staff, save lives and improve patient care.”
[Even today, 12 years after the launch of the National Programme for IT, the NHS does not have integrated digital records.]
Caroline Flint, then health minister in charge of the NPfIT, told the House of Commons on 6 June 2007:
“… it is lamentable that a programme that is focused on the delivery of safer and more efficient health care in the NHS in England has been politicised and attacked for short-term partisan gain when, in fact, it is to the benefit of everyone using the NHS in England that the programme is provided with the necessary resources and support to achieve the aims that Conservative Members have acknowledged that they agree with…
“Owing to delays in some areas of the programme, far from it being overspent, there is an underspend, which is perhaps unique for a large IT programme.
“The contracts that were ably put in place in 2003 mean that committed payments are not made to suppliers until delivery has been accepted 45 days after “go live” by end-users.
“We have made advance payments to a number of suppliers to provide efficient financing mechanisms for their work in progress. However, it should be noted that the financing risk has remained with the suppliers and that guarantees for any advance payments have been made by the suppliers to the Government…
“The national programme for IT in the NHS has successfully transferred the financing and completion risk to its suppliers…”
Andy Burnham, then Health Secretary, told the House of Commons on 7 December 2009:
“He [Andrew Lansley] seems to reject the benefits of a national system across the NHS, but we do not. We believe that there are significant benefits from a national health service having a programme of IT that can link up clinicians across the system. We further believe that it is safer for patients if their records can be accessed across the system…” [which hasn’t happened].