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NPfIT condemned in MPs' scathing report

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The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has issued a damning report into the NHS's overdue and over budget National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

The group of MPs conclude that the system is late, suppliers are struggling to deliver, medical staff are sceptical of the entire project, and there is still no clear idea of how much it will cost.

The stakes are high, the PAC MPs write. If the programme works, it'll revolutionise the system and improve things for all of us. But if it fails, we'll be paying for it in more ways than one for years to come: as well as taxpayers being hit by the massive bill of at least £12bn, dealing with the fall out of failure system will divert resources from the NHS frontline.

Committee of Public Accounts chairman MP Edward Leigh MP said: "Urgent remedial action is needed at the highest level if the long-term interests of NHS patients and taxpayers are to be protected.

"The programme is not looking good. The electronic patient clinical record, which is central to the project, is already running two years late. The suppliers are struggling to deliver. Scepticism is rife among the NHS clinicians whose commitment to the programme is essential to its success. And, four years down the line, the costs and benefits for the local NHS are unclear."

The report calls for an urgent audit of the three main contractors, CSC, Fujitsu, and BT. The MPs want to see details of which contractual milestones have been met, which have been missed, how much cash has already been paid out, and what has actually been improved.

But the government says the MPs are basing their findings on a report from the National Audit Office that is a year old. Health Minister Lord Hunt said substantial progress has been made since the NAO report. X-rays can now be taken electronically, and electronic prescriptions are also available, he said.

But Leigh argued that the time for talking is over: "If dissident clinicians are to be persuaded, they will have to see the advanced electronic patient record systems up and running. And if these systems cannot be delivered within the framework of the programme, the local NHS should be given greater freedom to look for alternative systems which do work."

Richard Bacon, PAC member and Conservative MP for South Norfolk went even further, calling for Connecting for Health, the agency in charge of implementing NPfIT, to be scrapped. He called it "a nightmare organisation", according to reports, and said we would be better off without it.

His colleague and shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien, said the problems began when doctors and nurses were not consulted properly at the planning stages. ®

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