The Conservative party has commissioned the British Computer Society to review NHS IT policy including the £12.7 billion National Programme for IT, which they claim is “crashing down”.
The review is the latest sign that the NHS IT programme, now four years late, will be a political battleground in the next general election. Some projections have even predicted the programme will go over £20 billion.
The review, for a report due to be published in March 2009, will examine all aspects of NHS IT including the programme to digitise patient records and provide electronic prescriptions, consulting a range of stakeholders, including doctors, other system users within the NHS, suppliers, project managers and academics. Anyone with an involvement in healthcare can participate.
Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien, who has labelled the national programme a “monolithic top down, centralised, one size fits all NHS supercomputer system”, has relentlessly questioned MPs about the programme in recent months. In June, health minister Ben Bradshaw, revealed that it would cost the NHS £4.5 billion more for local trusts to buy the IT and services now being provided by the national programme.
Dr Glyn Hayes, head of the review and former chair of the BCS Informatics Forum, was reluctant to be drawn into a political debate, and said the society remains politically neutral and the report will not pursue a particular outcome.
“We’re not interested in comments on the current situation,” he told Computerworld UK. “This is looking to the future to inform policy.”
Hayes said the review would assess future health IT policy, regardless of which party is in power. The group wants to set a vision for how IT can benefit healthcare, as well as establishing a strategy for achieving that.
“We’ve not predetermined what the review will say,” he “And, although the Tories have started it, they are not bound by it.”
Nevertheless, in a request for evidence, two of the five project remits details are to “advise on action for the current government to take” and to “advise on policy options to be considered for implementation by an incoming Conservative government”.