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Outlook bleak for NHS IT

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The NHS's National Programme for IT - supposedly the world's largest civilian technology project - is looking increasingly unwell.

But now, with weeks until the general election, the NHS and its suppliers are desperate to score some victories.

Pressure is mounting on Morecambe Bay - which is meant to be the first place to pilot iSoft's Lorenzo patient management system. iSoft insisted earlier this month that it is still on track to go live by the end of the month.

Parts of the NPfIT have worked - digital transmission of X-rays was an early success.

But the £12.7bn project has struggled in many other ways - the government was forced to bail out central supplier software firm iSoft with millions of pounds of pre-payments. Four ex-directors of iSoft have been charged with criminal offences by the FSA. iSoft was itself taken over by IBA Health in 2007.

Doctors objected to the assumed consent model used for summary care records. The Public Accounts Committee recommended a rethink, and Richard Granger, the man in charge and Britain's best-paid civil servant, quit his post early.

Connecting for Health - the bit of government supposedly running the project - has previously claimed press were the biggest danger to the successs of the programme.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are continuing to work with the NHS at local level to ensure that the things clinicians have told us are most important to them get delivered. By focusing on these priority areas, we will ensure that patients get to benefit from our investment in health care technology whilst at the same time ensuring that the savings announced by the Secretary of State are achieved.

"We continue to review cost reductions to ensure that the savings obtained are commensurate with the reductions in scope and delivery profile."

The fate of the mega-project will likely be decided in the next few weeks. Whoever wins the upcoming election will be looking for any possible ways to cut UK expenditure and unpopular, expensive technology projects will be tempting targets.

But the most likely immediate result of cancelling any government IT project will be hordes of IT vendors running to their lawyers to find out how big a penalty payment they can extract from the relevant government department. ®

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