Homerton rejects FOI NPfIT request

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Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is important to the public image of the NPfIT. It's arguably as important to PR on the NHS IT scheme as Alastair Campbell was to Tony Blair's administration.

MPs on the Health Committee visited Homerton during their inquiry into the NPfIT electronic record systems. Connecting for Health has many times invited TV and radio journalists to see Homerton's Cerner Millennium systems. Computer Weekly has had an invitation too.

Numerous articles on the NPfIT, and several TV documentaries, have cited Homerton when countering criticisms.

Ben Bradshaw, former NPfIT minister, mentioned Homerton as being satisfied with the system when he answered a Parliamentary question on the progress of the Cerner foll-out on 23 July 2007.  
The PR for Homerton is not hogwash: it has got to grips with the Cerner system, though it has taken several years of fault-fixing; and it may be relevant that Homerton originally signed a contract with Cerner directly, in 2004. It could negotiate with Cerner to have problems fixed - it did not have to go through an NPfIT local service provider intermediary.

And there were some problems. This is from a paper to the Board of Directors, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, dated 24 May 2006:

"The Board discussed the EPR [electronic patient record] implementation and agreed that a section should be added to the Annual Accounts to note that the implementation of EPR had resulted in an inability to accurately record and code activity for a period of time and that this had resulted in a significant impact on income.

"It should also include reference to ongoing contract negotiations with Cerner. Ms Clarke [then Director of Finance] confirmed that monthly service payments had been withheld from Cerner during December 05 and January 06 and that this had been accrued within the accounts."

To see how Homerton has been getting on with the Cerner since, I put in an FOI request earlier this year.

I'd pointed out in the request that Homerton appeared to be unusually secretive, which was not within the spirit of the FOI legislation. I quoted these examples from Homerton board papers:

SUI [Serious Untoward Incident] Report
This item was discussed under reserved business.

Fundraising at Homerton.
This item was discussed under reserved business.

I asked for details of high-level discussions on the Cerner system. The reply was disappointing.

David Bridger, head of governance at Homerton, replied that "on going management of the system is discussed at meetings of the Programme Management Team".

But ...

"We are unable to share documents relating to these meetings as our contract with Cerner includes a confidentiality clause and as such disclosure of the information could give rise to an actionable breach of confidence."

The trust released no information at all on its Cerner discussions.

The FOI Act was enacted in part to open up to public scrutiny the internal affairs of public bodies, to allow taxpayers to judge that funds were being spent wisely.

With Homerton, though, we have to rely on the organisation's PR to assure us all is well with the Cerner system.

Homerton is entitled to be as secretive as its Board wishes. But is it right that it keeps its Cerner secrets safely hidden while inviting the media and MPs to see the Cerner system in action?

Links:

Hospital sings NHS IT praises - Computing.co.uk

The development of an electronic patient record system at Homerton   
 

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