Darzi will probe NHS IT programme for 'clinical benefits'

Health minister Lord Darzi will examine ways to ensure the £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT) delivers “real clinical benefits” in the second stage of his review of the NHS, he announced today.

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Health minister Lord Darzi will examine ways to ensure the £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT) delivers “real clinical benefits” in the second stage of his review of the NHS, he announced today.

Lord Darzi – the practising surgeon and professor who joined the government when Gordon Brown became prime minister – published his interim report on the future of the NHS today.

It says recent investment in NHS computer systems – led by Connecting for Health, the agency that runs NPfIT – has “created the opportunity to make a step-change”.

But Darzi adds: “I believe more work is now needed to ensure that the Connecting for Health programme delivers real clinical benefits, and I will be considering in the second stage of my review how best to achieve this.”

The report also warns that there are significant problems with the NHS’s use and quality of data. “The NHS has a great deal of data, but a paucity of information,” it says.

“Much of the information we do have is available to limited numbers of people, is often inconsistent with that held elsewhere, and is frequently not available at the point of need.”

Darzi’s announcement that he will probe the benefits of NPfIT marks the nearest the government has come to accepting a review of huge IT scheme – a call made repeatedly by MPs and echoed by Derek Wanless, the architect of the government’s health spending plans, last month.

Wanless, whose landmark 2002 review of NHS spending carried out for the Treasury called for a doubling of investment in NHS IT, warned in a follow-up report – commissioned by the King’s Fund think tank – that NPfIT lacked a business case, was unaudited and risked creating supplier monopolies.

But the government has so far been adamant that it will not review the huge IT programme, stating its opposition in response to the powerful Commons public accounts committee and to Wanless, when it reiterated: “We do not consider there are grounds for another independent review of the national programme at this time.”

The release of Darzi’s interim report today has sparked criticism from opposition parties who claimed publication had been brought forward by the government in a political manoeuvre ahead of a general election announcement.

If an election is called for November, as is widely anticipated, it would see voters go to the polls long before Darzi’s examination of NPfIT comes to light: the final report of his review is due in June 2008.

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