In September last year I asked Christine Connelly, the Health CIO, whether the £5.8bn spent so far on the National Programme for IT had been value for money.
Her reply in defence of the NPfIT leaves me to wonder whether she and David Cameron have different views on the value for money of the billions spent on the programme so far.
Connelly said in reply to my question: “The money we have spent so far I believe has been value for money.”
David Cameron told the House of Commons last week, in reply to a question about the NPfIT from Richard Bacon MP:
“We are concerned that the NHS IT projects that we inherited were of poor value for money, an issue we raised repeatedly in opposition.”
This apparent difference of opinion may be important because Connelly’s view is the one that prevails within the Department of Health and is likely to be shared by Sir David Nicholson, the CE of the NHS and Senior Responsible Owner of the NPfIT.
Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, has equivocal views on the programme and I have described his NPfIT minister Simon Burns as the NPfIT's most senior press officer.
So whose view, ultimately, will prevail, the PM’s or the DH’s? I wonder how much influence the PM has on the NPfIT and whether his scepticism will make any difference to the future of the programme. Indeed if the PM wants to halt the NPfIT, or cancel contracts, will he get his way even if he is determined? I suspect not.
This was Connelly’s verbatim reply to me in September last year.
Me: Do you think the £5.8bn spent so far is value for money?
“I don’t know that that is a number I recognise but it’s not very far away. The money we have spent so far I believe has been value for money.
“That doesn’t mean to say that, if you sit where we sit today in 2010, if you started in 2010, I am sure you would design how you spend that money and what you do in a different way.
“I think that goes for any IT programme. If you started it again a year, two of five years later, you would do it differently because technology has moved on. The world is different.
“We have an opportunity to say: ‘how will we approach this for the new health service that is being created?’ It is important we take that opportunity and we don’t get held back by the decisions we made in the past.
“We want to make the best of what we have got and leverage it, because what we have got, is actually elements that we would say are excellent.
“If you go across the world and talk to other people in other countries they are very envious of some of the things we have in place. If you look at digital imaging, PACS, it is a great system. It works very well.
“If you look at N3 which we would talk about as something quite simple to do, actually 10 years ago that didn’t look simple to do at all. We take it for granted but it is a great development.”
Richard Bacon’s exchange with the Prime Minister on 11 May 2011 is here.