Minister ignored letter from academics seeking NHS IT review

Health minister Lord Darzi did not reply to a letter from a leading academic and prominent critic of the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT, despite announcing that he will examine the scheme as part of his NHS review.

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Health minister Lord Darzi did not reply to a letter from a leading academic and prominent critic of the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT, despite announcing that he will examine the scheme as part of his NHS review.

Martyn Thomas is visiting professor of software engineering at Oxford University and one of the “NHS 23” group of computing academics who sent an open letter to the Commons health committee last year, calling for an independent assessment of its technical feasibility. The group later provided the MPs with terms of reference for such a review.

Professor Thomas told ComputerworldUK he had written to Lord Darzi – the surgeon and academic who took up his government role when Gordon Brown became prime minister – shortly after the minister announced that he would be reviewing the NHS and setting out a vision for its future.

“When we first heard he was carrying out a review I wrote to him offering to give him... the terms of reference for the technical review [of the huge computer project] produced in response to the Health select committee.”

But he added: “I never had a reply to the letter I sent.”

Earlier this month, Darzi published an interim report on his review, promising to examine ways to ensure that NPfIT delivers “real clinical benefits” in the second stage of his review. Darzi is expected to produce his final report by June next year.

A Department of Health spokesperson confirmed that Lord Darzi’s office had received Thomas’s letter, adding: “Of course we will look at the issues he raises.” No reason was given for the failure to acknowledge the letter.

Thomas is still keen to feed the expertise of the 23 academics into the Darzi review. “I’d be happy to provide the terms of reference again – all they have to do is drop me a line,” he said.

“The academic community as a whole is keen that this project should succeed,” he added. “We would fall over ourselves to give him as much support as possible so the slow train wreck we see in front of us can be halted.”

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