Care.data is ‘unachievable’, says Whitehall watchdog

Care.data, a controversial government scheme to extract individuals’ medical records from GP practices, has unmanageable or unresolvable issues, according to the Major Projects Authority.

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Care.data, a controversial government scheme to extract individuals’ medical records from GP practices, is ‘unachievable’ and should have its future ‘reassessed’, the Major Projects Authority has warned in its latest annual report.

The finding will come as a significant blow to NHS England, which relaunched Care.data just this month, starting with GP surgeries in one of four new pilot areas.

The Major Projects Authority was damning in its criticism of Care.data. Justifying the Red rating, it stated the programme needed to "clarify, agree and communicate the programme scope; appoint a full-time Senior Responsible Owner; reconstitute the Programme Board with a clear role and responsibilities; approve explicit go/no go criteria; agree and clarify finances; assign owners to key risks; and recruit key personnel".

.The MPA noted that efforts were underway to redress the issues, including "changing the Programme Board membership with a clear role, responsibilities and Terms of Reference; scheduled meetings at clear decision points in the programme; Programme Board approved explicit go/no go criteria to ensure that delivery plans are viable before the pilot rollout commences; and priority given to the recruitment of key personnel in order to move forward to a more controlled and stable phase of delivery."

 However this did not lead to an improved rating by the authority.

Care.data is spearheaded by NHS patients and information director Tim Kelsey (pictured), was launched in May 2013. At launch, NHS England promised data would be extracted routinely from most GP surgeries by September 2013.

However NHS England was forced to delay the project in February 2014, after a backlash from privacy campaigners, patient and GP groups, who raised concerns about its security and said there had been inadequate publicity.

There are significant problems with a number of projects to replace existing IT estates within Whitehall departments, the authority also found.  

The Major Projects Authority is a Whitehall watchdog that assesses important government projects on a five-point ‘traffic light’ system from red to green, with green indicating a project is likely to work and red indicating it is ‘unachievable’.

Programmes to overhaul IT in the Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions, Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office were all rated amber/red, which indicates successful delivery is in doubt, and urgent action is needed to address major issues.

The report highlighted major problems with the government’s flagship welfare reform project Universal Credit. The programme got an amber/red rating, despite the fact it was judged to have been ‘reset’ only last year, after it received an amber/red rating in 2013.

The Home Office’s ‘Technology Reset’ programme, to replace two existing mega-deals with Atos and Fujitsu when they expire in 2016, was also rated red/amber, despite having launched just a year ago.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s ICT reprocurement plan and the Department for Work and Pensions’ IT transformation were both deemed to be at risk. The MPA warned the Ministry of Defence plans to replace its core IT platform (the Defence Information Infrastructure) could not be delivered by the end of the first quarter in 2015.

Individual IT projects within departments did not fare much better. The Ministry of Justice’s common platform project, which aims to digitise the criminal justice process end-to-end and launched over three years ago, got an amber/red rating. The MPA said the project was huge, complex and had already had its delivery timetable pushed back repeatedly.

The MPA did not explain why it chose not to assess the G-Cloud programme. It was given an amber/red rating in 2014.

The MPA report was published just over eight months after the necessary data was collected. It is unclear why it took so long to publish the document this year. It was published in May both last year and its first year of publication the year before.

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