Feature

Warning signs surround world's largest IT project

Computer Weekly has closely followed the national programme for IT (NPfIT) in the NHS since its inception in 2002. Some of the key events and turning points that led to the call for an independent review of the national programme are outlined below.

March 2004

At an NHS conference in London, to which journalists were not invited, the health minister John Hutton and Christopher Bland, chairman of BT, who was knighted for his NHS work in 1993, speak of the NPfIT's risks and potential benefits.

Bland, whose company has won the biggest contracts in its history to implement key parts of the programme, says BT is excited by the challenge but "somewhat frightened by the enormity and complexity of it".

Winning more than £2bn in NPfIT contracts, Bland says, "We feel slightly like a dog chasing a car... What do we do if we catch it? Well, we've caught it."

September 2004

Aidan Halligan announces his intention to leave the NHS. He is the second senior responsible owner of the NPfIT to leave, the first being John Pattison, who retired. Halligan was the most senior figure in the Department of Health to be openly critical of aspects of the NPfIT, while remaining an enthusiastic supporter of the overall plans.

October 2004

Computer Weekly reveals that the NPfIT could cost a minimum of £18.6bn - three times more than the announced figure - with a large part of the bill falling locally, on NHS trusts.

In a written statement to Computer Weekly, the NPfIT says that the business case for the programme estimates the total cost to be three to five times that of the procurement costs - the procurement costs being £6.2bn.

January 2005

A Computer Weekly reporter is barred from a press conference on the NPfIT chaired by the then health minister John Hutton at Richmond House, headquarters of the Department of Health.

More than a dozen journalists from national newspapers and magazines pass through a security gate to enter the press conference. But when Computer Weekly's reporter approaches, a Department of Health press officer stands in front of the gate, barring entry. The barring denied an opportunity to Computer Weekly to ask the health minister about the NPfIT.

March 2005

Computer Weekly calls for an independent audit of the NPfIT. Editor Hooman Bassirian says, "A forward-looking review would complement a study on the project's value for money by public spending watchdog the National Audit Office." The campaign is backed by MPs.

A spokesman for the NPfIT says, "We should like to place on record that we do no think it is appropriate for a commercial media organisation to be calling for an independent review of the national programme when that is rightly the role of the National Audit Office, which reports to parliament."


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This was first published in April 2006

 

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