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NHS staff bemoan NPfIT problems

Delays a growing risk to patient safety

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NHS staff believe that financial deficits and poor communication are hindering implementation of England's National Programme for IT (NPfIT), according to a new study.

Led by King's College London and published in the the British Medical Journal, the study also says that continuing delays could constitute a growing risk to patient safety.

As reported in a previous study published in 2005, respondents felt that local financial deficits were having a serious impact on the progress of the programme, but that the difficulties have now become worse. They are now under greater pressure to make savings, but have claimed that the solutions offered through Connecting for Health (CfH), the agency in charge of the programme, are often more expensive than market alternatives.

The study also reports ongoing concern about a lack of clarity and poor communication from CfH. It says that while many respondents were still enthusiastic about the programme, they feel there is too much uncertainty about the timetable for delivering key components, and about the extent of financial assistance.

There is a belief that most decisions have been made by CfH and the local service provider, and in some cases trusts have adopted policies that discourage staff from engaging with the programme.

With the announcement of the new IT programme in 2002, many NHS trusts stopped investing in their existing systems. This study highlights how delays now mean that existing technology may not be fit for purpose and some staff feel this represents an unacceptable risk to patient safety.

Professor Naomi Fulop of the School of Social Science and Public Policy at King's College London said: "We have found that NHS staff support the goals of this programme and believe in the benefits of IT modernisation. But they have a number of serious concerns, in particular potential risks to patient safety.

"It's crucial that patient information is stored and accessed via a robust, secure IT system. While the delays continue, IT networks are becoming outdated and there is a real risk that patient care could be compromised."

Other issues identified in this study are a lack of faith in the patient booking system and a general questioning of whether the original goals of NHS-wide connectivity could ever be achieved.

The study is based on interviews with 25 senior NHS staff in financial, IT, and clinical roles from four healthcare trusts. The other partners in the study are Imperial College London, the University of Bristol, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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