Conservative Party leader David Cameron has attacked the government over its £12.4bn NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT), claiming that ministers had “fallen for the sales patter” of IT suppliers and consultants.
Cameron’s attack came in a speech at Trafford General Hospital, Greater Manchester – where Labour’s Nye Bevan launched the NHS nearly 60 years ago.
The Tory leader focused much of his speech on the huge computer project, arguing that the government’s attempts to modernise the NHS had not improved the health service, but instead “ripped out its heart and installed a malfunctioning computer instead”.
“It's one of the most shameful and disgraceful aspects of Labour's record: the way they fall for the sales patter of the management consultants and the big IT firms, who make them think they can cut corners to success,” he said.
“Spend a few million on these consultants, they're told, a few billion on this computer project, and everything will be ok. Well it isn't.”
The NHS was suffering from “shoddy jargon-ridden schemes served up on PowerPoint and swallowed whole” by the government, Cameron said, accusing ministers of “hopeless gullibility”.
Cameron argued for electronic care records to be held locally by GPs rather than on the national NHS data spine – the controversial core element of NPfIT. He cited the ready availability of medical information on the internet and local IT expertise as evidence that a local rather than national system was appropriate.
“Today Google has three million medical articles online, there for public viewing and easy searching... It's this horizontal diffusion of knowledge that makes me so confident we can do better than the government's proposal for a vast, centralised, NHS database,” he said.
In a reference to the data loss fiasco at HM Revenue and Customs and the subsequent disclosure of data security breaches by NHS trusts, Cameron said: “Surely recent events have shown how dangerous government IT systems are - just think of the potential for disaster when everyone's health records are stored centrally.
“Of course we need different NHS professionals to be able to access medical records,” the Conservative leader said. “But those records should be owned by the patient, and stored locally, under the control and protection of his GP. We need local servers with interoperability.”
Extending his IT theme to society in general, Cameron said Britain was now in a “post-bureaucratic” age where centralised structures were being broken up and devolved. “Instead of the national mainframe, we are entering the age of the local network. This applies especially to health and healthcare.”