BT looks to help medicine go down in Qatar

Makes contract adjustments with the DoH

Update Telecoms giant BT has announced plans to stretch its electronic healthcare tentacles into the Middle East and Africa.

The firm said this week that it will be meeting with senior members of the Qatar biz community as well as government officials to talk about so-called e-health opportunities with the Arab emirate state and its neighbouring countries.

BT is one of the largest players in the supply of IT services to the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.

A BT spokeswoman told The Register that talks with Qatar were at a very early stage but, if plans to expand in the Middle East did take-off, the firm was looking to pump something in the "low billions"* into a healthcare IT system there.

She added that BT's "number one priority is to deliver the NHS programme". Asked if its ambitions to move into other geographical regions could impact that goal, she said: "We have no intention of taking our eye off the ball."

Just this week, the firm's health director Patrick O'Connell confirmed to the Financial Times that a renegotiation had taken place with the Department of Health (DoH) over a £1bn deal to install new IT systems in London.

According to O'Connell the "relatively trivial" contract adjustments, financial details of which were kept under wraps, had been necessary because the £12.4bn Connecting for Health programme had grown in scale since its launch in 2002.

New GP payment software, digital X-rays and images, and electronic record transfers were among the systems not included in the original scheme.

Renegotiations were also rumoured to be underway between the DoH and the NHS's two other main IT contractors, Fujitsu and CSC, both of whom remained tight-lipped this week.

Connecting for Health also issued fresh denials that any overspend was likely to occur because of the change in scope to the original plans for its ambitious healthcare system scheme.

Criticisms of late delivery and out of control budgets have been levelled at BT, whose main goal within the programme is to create the widespread availability of an electronic patient record system.

Indeed, O'Connell admitted that the firm had "got off to a very slow start" when the scheme first kicked off.

Despite that, he reckoned that the time was right to expand its e-health "expertise" into new regions such as the Middle East and Africa.

He said: "These very large programmes remain tricky until the very last day." ®


*BT contacted us to point out the "low billions" figure referred to was in fact the total amount of business available to everyone looking at IT opportunities in Qatar over the next few years, and not what the firm necessarily expected to invest.

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