Tories slam NHS secrecy as BT line up new contracts

The Tories have accused the NHS of handing over eight IT contracts to BT without a proper tendering process.

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The Tories have accused the NHS of handing over eight IT contracts to BT without a proper tendering process.

BT Global Services, one of the two remaining main suppliers for the £12.7bn National Programme for IT of an original four, is set to take charge of electronic records for eight NHS trusts in the south of England, without having gone through a full procurement process.

The move could cost taxpayers an extra £500 million, according to Stephen O’Brien, shadow health minister and Richard Bacon, a senior member of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

They were speaking as the PAC published a damning report, which said the government should give the troubled NPfIT programme just six months to get itself back on track.

Parts of the project are running at least four years behind schedule following the departure of two major contractors, the NPfIT now reliant on two contractors, CSC and BT to deliver on the contract.

“The programme’s high dependence on just two major suppliers has implications for the Programme’s capacity and capability, and for the department [of health]’s leverage,” the Public Accounts Committee said today.

BT holds three major deals in the scheme, worth a combined £2.4 billion, according to the National Audit Office. In four years it has earned only £191 million of the estimated £1.08 billion value of the 10-year IT contract for London, according to the NAO.

BT is understood to be renegotiating its contracts and seeking to further expand its role into the south of England. The telecoms group is set to take over at NHS trusts Winchester and Eastleigh, Surrey, Sussex, Weston Area, Taunton and Somerset, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Milton Keynes, and Worthing and Southlands, filling a void left by Fujitsu, which left the much-delayed project after incurring large losses last year.

These eight trusts have already installed the Cerner Millennium patient record system, the system BT is installing in London.

It is understood that CSC was not awarded contracts for those trusts because it is instead installing a competitive system, iSoft Lorenzo, to trusts in the north of the country and does not have experience of servicing Millennium.

It may, however, be in the running for the other trusts in the south that have not yet installed a system, sources said.

The Conservative party questioned why contract negotiations “have been shrouded in commercial confidentiality”, saying this was not in the public interest. Stephen O’Brien told Computerworld UK that ministers were more concerned with “saving face” than delivering better care.

“The Government must come clean on the costs,” he said. “Connecting for Health is costing billions, and is way behind schedule – when will they bring forward the real changes that ought to be made?”

Connecting for Health, the agency running NPfIT, defended its position, saying it was entitled to hand over the work under existing contracts, which stipulate that if a supplier exits the programme unexpectedly then the work can be allocated to other contractors in the interests of continuity.

A spokesperson at CfH confirmed to Computerworld UK that the NHS was in “advanced discussions” with BT over the eight trusts. The spokesperson added: “We have absolutely adhered to the intention, outlined during the original procurement process and documents, and within the contracts themselves, to transfer business between suppliers in the event of a supplier leaving the programme.”