BMA doctors demand public inquiry into NHS computer project

Britain’s doctors have called for an urgent public inquiry into the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT).


Britain’s doctors have called for an urgent public inquiry into the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

The British Medical Association’s annual conference in Torquay has passed a resolution warning that the “exorbitantly expensive” project is “doomed to fail”.

An inquiry to focus on the cost of the planned national database of electronic care records and “whether this has been a cost effective use of public funds”, the conference agreed.

Angry doctors focused their fire on the long-delayed electronic care record system and the already deployed Choose and Book system for booking hospital outpatients appointments.

The conference passed a resolution warning that Choose and Book was “unfit for purpose” and “actually limits patient choice” – the key government policy it was designed to put into practice.

Choose and Book was “a politically driven initiative” to reduce hospital deficits and give the illusion that government targets are being met, the resolution said.

Uptake of Choose and Book by GPs is still limited, with NHS figures published in April showing that just 37% of referrals to outpatients departments went through the system - far short of the Department of Health’s 90% target. But the government is piloting a scheme that would give patients direct access to the system.

A survey by specialist medical polling organisation Medix in November found that among GPs who used the system regularly, 90% said it increased the time taken to refer a patient to hospital while 70% said it was either detrimental to patient care or made no difference.

The conference urged the BMA to investigate the impact of the Choose and Book system on referral patterns – a move that will greatly interest hospitals, where funding now depends on the number of operations and treatments carried out.

The doctors stopped short of withdrawing cooperation from the entire national IT programme. But the conference carried a resolution that means the BMA will advise members not to cooperate with the proposed centralised storage of all medical records, “as this seriously endangers patient confidentiality”.

Patient information and data uploaded into the proposed NHS clinical care record was not secure and confidential, the doctors decided.

Any potential restriction of NHS access for patients who refused permission for their data to be placed on the national data “spine” was “to be deplored”, the conference resolved.

Earlier on at the conference, acting BMA chair Dr Sam Everington said NPfIT was in “a sorry sate”.

“Estimated costs of upward of £20bn, interminable delays, the chaotic shambles that is Choose and Book, growing concerns about patient confidentiality and security – it’s a wonderful exercise in how not to do things,” he said.

Delivery of software for the care record system is running more than two years late in three out of five NPfIT regions, where troubled software firm iSoft is supposed to provide its Lorenzo system. Lead contractor CSC has now stepped in to manage delivery of Lorenzo and other iSoft products to be provided for NPfIT.

Questions have also been raised over the NPfIT contracts by NHS IT chief Richard Granger, who has suggested that contractors might seek changes to contracts or compensation when he leaves his post – an idea suppliers rejected. Granger is set to quit as head of Connecting for Health, the body that runs NPfIT, before the end of the year.

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