Ministers kill off failed £12.7bn NHS IT revamp
Doomed project's costs doubled
GPs and hospitals have been told to look locally for IT help as the government finally spikes a £12.7bn nationwide NHS computer system.
The failed project intended to store everybody's records, institute a national email system for the NHS and make X-rays and prescriptions available electronically. It was touted as the world's biggest civil information technology programme.
But a report from the Cabinet Office's Major Projects Authority has brought the axe down on the mammoth IT project, which has been riddled by screw-ups since its launch in 2002.
It has cost more than double the £6.2bn that was originally set aside for it, and ministers now believe that it will never be able to deliver its goals.
The project foundered on its core principle of centralisation, said the Department of Health in a statement: "It is no longer appropriate for a centralised authority to make decisions on behalf of local organisations. We need to move on from a top down approach and instead provide information systems driven by local decision-making."
Not all of the techie achievements of the project have been lost: key features that are now in use include Spine – which stores patients' care records, the N3 Network – offering a broadband network to health workers; and NHSmail – a unified, secure email system for the whole service.
Other pieces of tech salvaged from the wreckage include: Choose and Book, an appointment booking service, Secondary Uses Service and Picture Archiving and Communications Service – which allows for the transfer of X-ray pictures.
Though the break-up of the old contracts has been expensive, it could open up opportunities for small British IT companies. The government has urged hospitals and GPs to find their own IT projects locally.
Head IT honcho at the NHS, Katie Davis, says she wants to achieve a "vibrant marketplace for healthcare IT".
To provide just such a thing, the NHS has partnered up with Intellect, The Technology Trade Association – a group representing 800 tech companies including small enterprises as well as multinationals.
Arguably smaller projects could result in better project management.
"We are looking at how the NHS can best understand what our industry has to offer them" the healthcare programme manager at Intellect, John Lindberg said to The Reg. He described the service they provide to the NHS as "almost like a catalogue."
Of the 800 companies Intellect represents, 260 specialise in IT for healthcare, and the bulk of them – 200 – are SMEs.
Lindberg described healthcare IT as good area for start-ups because it requires lots of specialist solutions. ®
They were told so
Many people told those in charge it would be an expensive disaster.
The government did its usual - opened to 'competative tender' but set the rules such that only a very small number of huge and very expensive international consultancies could even bid, it then chose one of them and gave them a stack load of money, a very very small proportion of this money was spent on a bunch of Indian developers, a massive amount was siphoned off into massive wages and bonuses for 2 or 3 individuals 'at the top'.
It was never going to deliver. And the 'new idea' will also end up with similar restrictions so that services won't come from small or medium British companies but again from huge global consultancies who will once again outsource to India. This is the way UK government procurement works - for everything - set the rules to ensure that NO British company can ever be involved, then bemoan the 20+% unemployment and pretend they are 'trying' to do something about the shrinkage that has occured every year since I was born in the number of jobs, the wages and prospects for workers in this country. [I, with a degree my father never had, working in what was supposed to be a 'growth industry' (computers) and successful at my job have a lower standard of living than my father has ever had]
The story I heard several times
was that people doing the requirements capture would go into meetings with large numbers of NHS bods and get different requirements from every one of them. They would then go away and work on the various requirements to try and make sense of them. However, the next meeting they attended would consist of another, different large number of NHS bods who would all have their own requirements, etc., rinse and repeat. In other words, it was the proverbial, failed piss-up in a brewery.
The fact of the matter is that most successful, large, complex IT systems which worked EVOLVED from successful, small, simple IT systems which worked. Starting out to create an enormous, complicated system from scratch is a recipe for disaster but no one in government ever wants to learn because of the lucrative executive directorships available when they're no longer in government.
There was a simple solution...
... which wouldn't have made no-one in the Civil Service look good.
1) Define XML schema for patient health records, and binary stuff like X-Rays.
2) Define a simple REST-type API to query these records and request updates.
Then each hospital adds the REST interface to their existing systems. Result - nationally-available health records.
Cost - buttons.