Reviews reveal cracks in NHS IT project

The long-awaited publication of 31 of the government’s Gateway Reviews on the £12.7-billion NHS project exposes calls for remedial action.

Hospital IT

The National Programme for IT (NPfIT) has come in for more criticism, as the contents of the long-awaited Gateway Reviews into the 12.7-billion IT project reveals numerous failings.

Out of 31 reviews published, and carried out from the beginning of the project in 2002 until 2007, nine were given a red status according to the traffic light system used to denote the need for immediate remedial action'.

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The documentation also revealed a litany of doubts and concerns over the suppliers where only BT and CSC now remain their selection process and delays on the part of its stakeholders, including health officials.

One review carried out in November 2004 concluded: "The current lack of engagement with the hearts and minds of the staff within the NHS at all levels, the lack of a coherent benefits realisation strategy and the absence of clarity regarding the organisational structure that will address these problems means that the overall status of the National Programme is red."

A further 19 reviews were given an amber status, which means the project should proceed, but having taken notice of the recommendations of their author, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC).

The National Health Service (NHS) reviews were published last week in a surprise move by, on behalf of the Treasury, which examines the NPfIT business case throughout its lifecycle.

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It had opposed their publication in response to a Freedom of Information Act request backed by the Information Commissioner. But, a statement issued by Connecting for Health (CfH) as the organisation responsible for NPfIT, said the reviews were deliberately critical and focused on problems.

"They were also balanced in highlighting positive progress too," said the CfH statement, which also described the project as a "difficult but necessary programme".

It reiterated the acknowledgment of what has been successfully delivered by the report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in January this year. But the PAC report also advised it had six months to overcome ongoing delivery delays.

And, referring to last month's speech by Christine Connolly, it concluded: "The Department of Health's Director General for Informatics has recently made clear that if significant progress is not achieved by the end of November 2009, a new approach may need to be adopted."

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