NHS computer programme needs review says instigator of government health plans

Derek Wanless, architect of the government’s NHS spending plans, has called for a comprehensive audit of the health service’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

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Derek Wanless, architect of the government’s NHS spending plans, has called for a comprehensive audit of the health service’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

Wanless drew up a 2002 report to the Treasury, where Gordon Brown was chancellor, outlining the spending required to take the NHS forward. Among his recommendations was that investment in IT – then around £1.1bn a year, or 1.5% of all NHS spending – should be doubled to more than 3% of NHS spend to support either “solid progress” in healthcare or an improved “fully engaged” scenario.

IT investment was “a major priority which will have a crucial impact on the health service over future years”, the landmark 2002 review said.

But in a 300-page follow-up report commissioned by the King’s Fund healthcare think tank, Wanless says the “well-documented delays that have beset the programme” meant that actual spending on IT “has followed neither the solid progress nor the fully engaged spending trajectories”.

Actual spending on modernisation of the NHS IT infrastructure has followed neither the solid progress nor the fully engaged spending trajectories set out ion the original review, the new report says.

It adds that NPfIT “has not been without its difficulties, with most progress tending to relate to systems that were not originally part of the modernisation plan”.

Wanless warned: “The well-documented problems and delays that have beset the NPfIT have the potential to undermine seriously the productivity gains envisaged by the 2002 review. Future commitment not only to implementing core ICT systems but also to realising patient benefits and productivity gains is vital.”

The programme must be “audited comprehensively to ensure that benefits will outweigh costs and to assess the precise impact on future productivity”, he said.

Connecting for Health, the body that runs NPfIT, “should be subject to detailed external scrutiny and reporting so that forecasts of long-term costs and benefits can be made with more confidence”, the report recommends.

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