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Updated: NHS lacking IT skills following National Programme, warns Intellect

Updated: NHS lacking IT skills following National Programme, warns Intellect

Services provider industry body in surprising warning following outsourcing

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NHS trusts are lacking the IT skills needed to deliver the information changes planned by the government, according to Intellect.

In a surprising warning from the body that represents IT services firms, Intellect said that outsourcing NHS IT under the £12.7 billion National Programme for IT had essentially left some trusts without the skills needed. Nevertheless, it also made a number of detailed recommendations for handling information and improving processes with IT.

Intellect said it had not yet submitted the response, seen by E-Health Insider, ahead of tomorrow’s deadline. Its comments come as the British Medical Association warned of possible difficulties for the NHS making all the changes while it is under "huge financial pressure".

The government said last year that it was cancelling the core of the much-delayed programme, which has been running since 2003 and aims to create digital patient records and hospital administration systems. But the Department of Health remains tied into contracts with key suppliers BT and CSC, so trusts are expected to be obliged to spend substantial amounts under the programme.

The government proposals call for an NHS-wide “information architecture” set around standards, improvements in data accuracy, and the opening up of records to patients online.

But Intellect said some trusts would find difficulty achieving these aims, because they lack the IT skills and experience required to make tough decisions after the large outsourcing programme.

In its response to the consultation, it said: “Under the National Programme for IT, trusts were not called upon to make what we might consider as risky ICT decisions and therefore may lack the necessary experience and ability to make such decisions effectively.”

A lack of skills could lead do delays in making the tough decisions and working on the transformation, it warned. It also called for trust chief information officers to be given “more prominent” positions on boards.

Intellect said it supported plans to give patients online access to their records, but suggested they should not be able to choose what is written by consultants. Only factual changes should be allowed, it said, adding that information needed to be presented clearly.

Criticising programmes led by IT without a clear business case, Intellect said technology needed to be "the facilitator and enabler but not the reason for the change". Programmes needed a solid business case rather than being "pushed through by an enthusiasm for technology and the fear of falling behind".

As the NHS looks to find £20 billion of savings by 2015, Intellect said it should look towards IT assisting greatly by driving better operational efficiency. It also called for cheaper and easier procurement processes, and said standards needed to be transparent and centrally mandated so that there is not too much complexity.

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