NHS IT: Give them what they want

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There is so much that could be written about the debacle of the National Programme for IT in the NHS that it is difficult to know where to begin.

Our story, NHS - Fujitsu talks ‘got stuck’ on localisation costs, describes the immediate cause of the latest problems.

There are though basic lessons that have been apparent almost from day one of the project, six years ago. The first is to ask the end users what they need to do their jobs more effectively and then give it to them.

The second is that a focus on standards and interoperability usually better than ramming through giant, centrally directed, monolithic programmes.

It is one of the bitter ironies of NHS IT in recent years that the most successful parts of the National Programme were not part of the original , but were added on as “quick wins” when timescales slipped on the original core of the project.

Indeed, work on some of the areas that are now hailed as a resounding success, such as local deployment of PACS – medical imaging systems - was halted at the outset of the National Programme. Some of the world’s leading experts in this technology were threatened by Department of Health officials and told to “get with the programme” or get out.

How much better would it have been if NHS officials had asked clinicians and hospital administrators what they needed most and then set out to deliver it?

How much better would it have been if NHS officials had said we are going to lay down interoperability and data exchange standards that all health organisations and supplier companies had to work to over five and ten years?

This would have delivered both standardisation and encouraged local innovation.

Is it too late to start again?

An exclusive interview with Richard Granger, the former director general of NHS IT, can be found on our sister site CIO.co.uk.

Some of ComputerWorldUK’s recent coverage of NHS IT, can be found here:

NHS IT in crisis as Fujitsu walks away from £896m contract talks

NHS Trust loses 38,000 patient records on tape

NHS IT programme is four years late

GP logs into NHS Choose and Book without security pass

BMA calls for halt to care records rollout