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Minister promises extra funding for NHS systems

Tony Collins
NHS trusts will have the funds to allow them to increase their IT budgets to 4% of the total NHS spend, according to the health minister John Hutton.

This would allow trusts to more than double their spending on information management and systems. Many of them now allocate only between 1% and 2% of their total budgets to IT.

The extra money could ease the financial pressures on trusts implementing locally the national programme for IT (NPfIT), the government's multibillion-pound modernisation initiative.

Hutton's announcement was in the form of a Parliamentary reply to a question from Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow. It was prompted by Computer Weekly's disclosure that the NPfIT could cost up to £31bn to implement.

Some trust IT directors reacted with scepticism to Hutton's statement. One NHS IT director told Computer Weekly, "There is no doubt that NHS organisations are getting more money each year over and above inflation increases, but at the same time, volume of activity is rising.

"The only way in which IT will get more money is for the centre to require trusts to demonstrate year-on-year progress towards the holy grail of 4%, with audits to check it out. If they do not do this, the money will never get down to the IT departments."

Some trusts are already finding extra funds to help pay for early implementations of national systems. But this is not a universal picture. One executive working on the NPfIT said last week that some trusts were reducing their IT spend in the mistaken belief that the money for implementing the national programme locally was coming directly from central funds.

Hutton did not say by when the target of 4% would be reached, and he gave no commitment that the extra money allocated to the NHS would be spent on IT. He made it clear that central funding of the NPfIT "does not include the cost of training NHS staff or local change management costs".

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