The NHS has held a series of meetings with key suppliers BT and CSC over the future of the £12.7 billion National Programme for IT.
The first meeting took place on 1 December, and there are ongoing discussions into the issue. The NHS is reviewing “all of the outcomes in order to decide the best way forward”, health minister Mike O’Brien confirmed in a parliamentary written answer.
Meanwhile, O’Brien said it “will take some time” to judge the companies’ progress against the targets, which called for a workable patient system by 30 November. Sources say a decision is expected in the New Year.
A day before the deadline, BT set live the Cerner Millennium patient administration system at Kingston Hospital. A month earlier CSC switched on the equivalent iSoft Lorenzo software at Bury.
It has emerged that there are 453 live issues with Lorenzo implementations. “Many” are of “low business impact”, O’Brien said, but others are more significant. The NHS considers issues such as spelling to be “low impact”, whereas higher impact issues include print formatting. It is not known how many problems are live on the Millennium system.
BT and CSC have to demonstrate that their implemented systems have a good take-up among clinicians and work usefully in practice, among other criteria. If the NHS considers the suppliers have not met the criteria it may take “alternative” routes for the programme, including cutting the suppliers’ contracts.
The NHS and BT declined to comment on ongoing discussions. CSC has not responded to a request for comment, but has in the past said it would not speak about contracts.
Chancellor Alistair Darling last weekend appeared to suggest the programme would be scrapped, setting ministers scrambling to explain the comments. In the end it was confirmed that parts of the programme would be cut, saving £600 million over its lifetime. It is not clear what will be cut.
Tola Sargeant, research director at analyst house TechMarketView, said “one option” is that some trusts in London, the Midlands and the North could be allowed to procure systems from a given list of suppliers, instead of being confined to BT or CSC. This is already happening in a number of southern trusts, which were left without a supplier after Fujitsu exited the programme.
But Sargeant warned that renegotiating BT and CSC’s contracts “is likely to be an expensive and lengthy process that might not be in the long term interest of the NHS and long-suffering patients”.