NHS chief executive David Nicholson has admitted the Department of Health will tender for alternatives to the iSoft Lorenzo and Cerner Millennium care record systems.
Nicholson told MPs that the tender was being carried out as a back-up plan because the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS is now at a “critical phase”.
Speaking at a House of Commons Health Committee hearing into the Operating Framework for 2009-10, he said both the iSoft and Cerner products needed to come good in the next few months.
“It’s helpful to us, I think, to have reserves if one of them fails.”
Responding to questions from Liberal Democrat MP Sandra Gidley, Nicholson said he was confident that Cerner Millennium could be rolled out, while Lorenzo had potential. But, he added, it is "not inevitable” it would be delivered.
"I think we will know over the next few months whether those products will actually be able to deliver the things they promised to do."
The NHS chief executive explained, “What we are also doing in parallel with this is going out again to tender to a variety of other organisations, to see whether there are now other organisations, who can also provide this service. It’s helpful to us I think to have reserves if one of them fails.”
Asked whether starting from scratch would create new problems, the NHS chief executive replied technology, had moved on significantly since the original contracts were tendered. "Some organisations who felt they did not want to be engaged in the programme might want to be engaged in the future. So we are keeping our options open."
Health secretary Alan Johnson also defended the programme, rebutting claims that the programme has wasted money. "Well, no we haven’t. We’ve spent £3.2 billion on this. Part of the problem is that we haven’t spent enough money. Our problem has been the delay in getting this in place” Johnson said.
Nicholson then went on to say Connecting for Health, the agency in charge of the National Programme for IT, was, "in financial terms, the best managed computer systems the government has ever had," he added.