The time for NHS honesty


The time for NHS honesty

Years into a major IT project it is understandable that some of those involved will want to talk about the specific things that are going well, and studiously avoid mentioning the bigger things that are going wrong.

This is now one of the dangers facing the NHS's National Programme for IT (NPfIT). Andrew Rollerson of Fujitsu, one of the main suppliers to the programme, said at an Eyeforhealthcare conference last week that work on the programme so far had been "fighting fires", and that the approach was "just not working". We applaud his honesty.

The key now is for MPs to admit the truth. That is a big step. Neither MPs nor senior civil servants are rewarded in their careers for admitting mistakes.

What we have instead are civil servants who say privately that MPs do not want a published, independent review because it could expose mistakes. And MPs do not want to admit mistakes on a £12.4bn programme for fear of the political fall-out.

With so much money at stake, this stalemate is increasingly ludicrous, especially when so much needs to be done and so much needs to change.

John Reid, former health secretary and now home secretary, said last month, "I believe that, whether in personal, business or political life, acknowledgement of a problem is always the first step in resolving it."

We absolutely agree. When health secretary Patricia Hewitt can bring herself to acknowledge the problems on the world's largest civilian IT programme, she will then be in a position to commission a published independent review of the scheme.

This will not happen while she and her colleagues remain willing participants in Whitehall's culture of cover-up and denial.

Link to NPfIT

Related article: Supplier sets out risks facing NHS IT plan

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This was first published in February 2007


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