Before David Nicholson was formally appointed Chief Executive of the NHS in 2006 he was warned that the NPfIT would be an important part of his brief.
He accepted the challenge and was later appointed the NPfIT’s Senior Responsible Owner,
To his credit he tried almost immediately to move the NPfIT away from a centralised programme. In 2006 he set up the NPfIT “Local Ownership Programme”. But the NPfIT continued to be dominated by its centralised contracts - which were signed long before Nicholson’s appointment.
In the main, Trusts bought “interim” systems because the national products from local service providers were not available. The NPfIT continued to slide towards costly oblivion while Nicholson’s Department of Health briefed the then PM Tony Blair in 2007 that “ .much of the programme is complete with software delivered to time and to budget”.
Today the DH continues to defend the NPfIT.
“The money we have spent so far I believe has been value for money,” said Christine Connelly, Health CIO, at a press conference at the DH headquarters in Whitehall last September.
Now the NHS Confederation, which could be said to be politically neutral, has written a paper on the NHS in the digital age, which includes a cogent denunciation of the NPfIT - and the Department of Health’s approach to IT.
The Confederation says:
“While NHS IT development during the last decade was characterised by immense ambition, so too was it marked by continual failure.
“Vast resources were committed to realising the visions of successive Department of Health IT strategies. Yet the principles governing these plans rested on questionable assumptions about technology and about large-scale organisational change that are, in part, responsible for the slow progress made today.”
ComputerworldUK.com has published a summary of the report of the NHS Confederation. The Confederation acknowledges the NPfIT successes such as the building of a national broadband infrastructure. But one would expect some success for the £6bn spent on the NPfIT so far. The impression given by the NHS Confederation in its paper is that the NPfIT has been a failure.
"Its [NPfIT's] extensive scope and scale have proved almost unmanageable for the public and private organisations involved," said the Confederation.
Will anybody be held responsible for the failure of what was once described as the world’s largest’s non-military technology-based programme?
Not the NPfIT's first senior responsible owner who left soon after the programme started in 2002. And not David Nicholson who was knighted in the 2010 New Year’s Honours. Indeed it’s worth asking whether there is any point in a large IT-based project or programme having a senior responsible owner who is, well, not entirely responsible - that is not accountable when things go wrong.
What happens now?
Building the SRO role - an event hosted by Gus O'Donnell (head of the civil service).
NHS Confederation report: Remote control: The patient-practitioner relationship in a digital age.