And so the NHS IT saga continues. According to BBC reports, and the resulting media storm, Labour plans to push through what amounts to a ‘deathbed deal’ before the general election, committing a new government to many years more tussling with the fated National Programme for IT.
The Tories had not long ago announced the ‘end of big IT’ and plans to enthusiastically dismantle this very programme. This plan could be thwarted if new agreements are signed-off early and could also spell trouble for the programme’s viability going forwards.
Of course we are still waiting for further details to emerge on this, but I would hate to think Labour was pushing this through as some kind of ‘poison pill’ simply to commit the Tories to one of its pet projects.
This is clearly not the way to go about such an important and costly project. It could also prove a sizeable own-goal if Labour were to win the election.
One would hope that government IT failures of the past have taught the appropriate lessons to guard against such a move.
These lessons surround areas like: conducting appropriate supplier diligence; planning meticulously; setting realistic expectations; and aiming for short-term milestones rather than one distant ‘Holy Grail’. Failing to properly address these points on the NHS Patient Records system has apparently already cost taxpayers more than £12bn since 2002.
With the government’s debt mountain reaching ever higher, more unnecessary expense simply cannot be tolerated going forward.
But the need for the NHS patient records system is of course still very apparent. Doctors clearly need full access to patient histories countrywide, so they can make appropriate diagnoses regardless of location.
However, too much money has already been wasted on this project through mismanagement. Whatever the political agenda, it is paramount that any new deal is not rushed.
Falling into the traps of the past could see mooted savings of £600m paling into insignificance against likely future losses.