Was Prime Minister misled over state of NPfIT?

CommentThe National Audit Office, in a letter to Conservative MP Richard Bacon, dated 18 November 2010, compares what Fujitsu was contracted to deliver under the National Programme for IT, and what was actually deployed.The NAO disclosures...

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The National Audit Office, in a letter to Conservative MP Richard Bacon, dated 18 November 2010, compares what Fujitsu was contracted to deliver under the National Programme for IT, and what was actually deployed.

The NAO disclosures contradict a briefing given by the Department of Health to the then Prime Minister in 2007 on the state of the NPfIT. 

In the briefing, the Department told the PM that "much of the Programme is complete with software delivered to time and to budget".

More than a year after the briefing the Programme was, in fact, evidently incomplete. 

The NAO's letter to Bacon says that Fujitsu's contract as an NPfIT local service provider in the south of England was scheduled to run until December 2014 at a cost of £1.2bn.

The NAO says: 

"It was originally intended that under the contract Fujitsu would deploy Cerner Millennium to 42 acute trusts, 31 primary care trusts, 13 mental health trusts, and 4 ambulance trusts. The Department of Health reports that, prior to termination of the contract in May 2008, Fujitsu had deployed Cerner Millennium at eight live sites.

"The contract termination followed 10 months of negotiations about setting a new baseline for development and deployment plans, and to agree changes to meet the local needs of the NHS. 

"The Department and Fujitsu were unable to agree on price and commercial terms and, when Fujitsu withdrew from negotiations, the NHS terminated the contract. The basis for the contract termination remains in dispute."

So Fujitsu had deployed Cerner Millennium at eight out of the 90 contractual NHS sites by May 2008 - yet the Department's senior officials told the PM in February 2007 that much of the Programme was complete with software delivered to time and to budget.

Clearly that part of the briefing was inaccurate and misleading. Was such a ministerial briefing a one-off, or does the Department make a habit of telling ministers only what they want to hear? 

If so, shouldn't ministers question vigorously what they're told by their civil servants? 

As far as I know, health ministers rarely challenge what they're told about the NPfIT by their advisers, other than ask a question or two. 

Simon Burns, the NPfIT minister, joked at the E-Health Insider conference at the NEC in Birmingham last month that he is not often let out by the Department into the real world. 

Many a true word said in jest.

But what use is an NPfIT minister that doesn't find out the truth about the NPfIT? He may as well be a civil servant. But perhaps the Department's aim in all ministerial initiations is to turn them into clones of civil servants. The strategy seems to have worked so far.

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