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NHS denies pre-election stitch-up

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The Department of Health has denied accusations from the Tory party that it is busy rewriting contracts with IT suppliers in a massive stitch-up ahead of the election.

The Tories told the BBC that the NHS's Connecting for Health was busy trying to get contracts signed within the next four weeks in order to force any incoming government to honour them. The £12.7bn scheme is several years behind schedule and has already been threatened with serious cuts by Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien told the broadcaster that he understood contracts were being reset in order to make them more rigid to effectively tie the hands of any future administration.

But for the government Mike O'Brien said nothing unusual was going on, and it would be absurd for the programme to come to a complete standstill just because of the election.

The Lib Dems have promised big cuts to NHS tech spending, while the Tories have pledged to decentralise the scheme to give hospitals and primary care trusts more choice in what systems they use.

The Tories were unable to comment at press time.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health denied there was any attempt at a stitch-up.

She said: "there is no Government aim to tie down deals before an election but neither do we intend to stop government because an election is pending.This is about amending existing contracts due to run to 2016 to take account of savings to be made to the Programme, in consultation with the IT suppliers. The end of March is the target for the first stage of these negotiations to come to a conclusion. Nothing in these contracts is decided by the proximity of an election."

In reference to the Chancellor's call for £600m in cost savings the spokeswoman said much of the NPfIT had already been delivered on budget: "but there are some additional elements which we are considering whether or not to proceed with. We are discussing these with the IT suppliers involved and the local NHS who set priorities. It would be irresponsible to delay negotiations on contracts because the Opposition demands it for party political reasons."

There's more from Radio 4 here. ®

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