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UK Government spending on IT is under the microscope, with a new report from the Institute of Public Policy Research highlighting significant failings in the multi-billion pound NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

Drawing on an analysis of ICT (information and communications technology) pilot projects, the think tank warns that the programme could be undermined by a failure to consult properly with medical professionals, a dearth of IT skills within the healthcare service and poor understanding of exactly what the health benefits are supposed to be.

The report, which comes just days after an all-party committee of MPs slammed IT spend as 'an appalling waste of money', says inadequate project evaluation means that it is impossible to tell if ICT projects are delivering benefits. Trials of electronic records, for example, have given no insight into whether the system would be more flexible than the current system, improve the quality of treatment, or save money.

Jamie Bend, ippr Research Fellow and author of the report, argues that ICT has the potential to bring real benefits to the NHS, but that these have yet to be demonstrated in practice.

"Unless it's proven that things like electronic health records work," he says, "it will remain difficult to justify to doctors, nurses and patients existing and additional spending on ICT."

He points out that problems with evaluation are recurring, and that this contributes to the impression that ICT projects have failed. This does not mean we should abandon IT projects wholesale. Instead, we should focus on demonstrating that technology can be used effectively, he says.

In response The NPfIT stated that a new framework for assessing projects was in development, silicon.com reports.

The(pdf) ippr report is here. ®

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