NHS IT how much is the government paying to keep suppliers sweet?

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There is something obscene about the political manoeuvring around NHS IT and, amidst the weasel words, opportunism and dissembling, some important questions are not being asked.

The Tories are accusing the government of “fixing” contract renegotiations on the £12.7bn National Programme for IT in the NHS to make it virtually impossible for a new government to scrap or fundamentally alter the scheme in future.

The government has responded by saying it is out to make £600 million cuts in the National Programme and that it hopes to sign a memorandum of understanding with its two remaining prime contractors, BT and CSC, within the month.

It insists that scrapping the NPfIT is both impossible and would be disastrous. Maybe, but no one is talking about what is really going on.

The government is trying to trim less than 5% from its spend on the National Programme. But what are the suppliers going to get in return?

How many hospitals are actually going to install the systems that are at the core of the programme? Trusts can now opt out, and many are doing.

How much functionality will the systems deliver, and how much has been dropped and will be dropped under the reset contracts?

The NPfIT contracts are supposed to run until 2014, with the suppliers providing maintenance until then. Given so few systems have been installed, and the record of the suppliers in delivering the systems, will the maintenance period be extended or the amount the government pays to the suppliers be cut?

The scandal might not be just that the government is rushing to sign reset contracts and making it difficult for a future government to scrap them, it might also be that minsters are determined to do the deal at almost any cost.

If the government wants £600 million cut from its side of the contracts, how much do BT and CSC want cut from theirs? £1,200 million? £1,800 million? More? We ought to be told.

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