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MPs slam 'unworkable' one-size-fits-all NHS care records' system

Concludes £7bn project failed, calls for 'urgent' review

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The Department of Health has failed in its attempt to properly integrate electronic care records across the NHS system, MPs concluded in a scathing Public Accounts Committee report published this morning.

Politicos said that Andrew Lansley's department should seriously consider ditching the £7bn implementation of the care records system, which forms part of the £11.4bn National Programme for IT.

It asked the DoH to review whether the remaining £4.3bn left for the project would be "better spent elsewhere".

The report added that the department had failed to "get the best out of its suppliers" – BT and Computer Sciences Corporation.

Both companies have been paid a combined total of £1.8bn so far, but are yet to fully deliver the care record systems tech agreed with the department, which has spent £2.7bn on the project to date, in their original contracts.

CSC has implemented what the committee described as "a large number of interim systems as a stopgap".

The DoH has been negotiating with the IT firm for over a year and recently admitted to the committee that ending the contract with CSC could be more expensive than allowing the company to complete the project.

Similarly, BT failed to deliver against its original deal with the department, which revised its contract with the telco giant by reducing the number of systems requested and then increasing the price for each one BT successfully implemented, said the report.

"The department is clearly overpaying BT to implement systems: BT is paid £9m to implement systems at each NHS site, even though the same systems have been purchased for under £2m by NHS organisations outside the programme," said the MPs.

They pointed to "poor accountability for project performance" at the DoH.

The committee, which is chaired by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, added that it was unclear how the programme would be managed in future "given the fundamental NHS restructuring that is expected over coming years".

MPs also questioned the department's inability to divvy up timely and accurate information and evidence to the public accounts committee.

The report also echoed concerns the same committee expressed last month about the Cabinet Office's plans to move more public services online, with that department failing to adequately address cyber-security in the government's IT and communications strategy.

"We are very concerned at the lack of evidence of risk management of security issues which may arise as a result of medical records being held electronically. The Department must address possible compromises in data security," it said today.

Joined-up care records across the NHS in England were "unworkable", said Hodge.

"It is unclear to us how the wider health reforms and NHS restructuring will affect the future management and governance of the care records system. The NHS trusts who will take on the risks have no contractual relationship with existing suppliers and no information about potential future costs," said the MP.

The Register asked BT and CSC to comment on this story, but neither company had responded to our request at time of writing.

A DoH spokeswoman gave us this statement:

"The government recognises the weaknesses of a top-down, centrally-imposed IT system. Although elements of the programme have been delivered successfully, the policy approach previously taken has failed to engage the NHS sufficiently.

"We have already taken action to improve value for money in the NHS IT programme. We have reduced spending on the NHS IT programme by £1.3 billion. We are engaging with the NHS to ensure it delivers even greater benefits for patients.

"We are determined to deliver even more value for money from the programme. The findings of the Public Accounts Committee, alongside the outcome of the Major Project Review Authority, will contribute to the planning currently underway for future informatics support to the modernised NHS.” ®

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