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Audit office set to publish delayed NHS IT inquiry

Tony Collins

Public spending watchdog the National Audit Office is due to publish this week the delayed findings of a two-year inquiry into the NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT). Auditors will also brief some MPs separately on the more contentious areas of the report.

Although the report was available in draft form at the end of 2005, its publication has been delayed as Whitehall officials and auditors sought to agree its factual content.

In the past Whitehall has responded to audit office reports by drawing attention to the positive findings, and dismissing criticism as out of date or being addressed.  

Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT, and other witnesses are due to answer questions on the report at a hearing on 26 June of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. The one-off hearing is unlikely to end parliamentary
scrutiny of the programme.

After a call by 23 experts in computer-related sciences for an independent technical audit of the NPfIT, the Commons Health Committee is expected to hold a series of hearings into the programme this autumn.

Some of its members believe the need for the hearings is all the more important since health minister Caroline Flint last month rejected the call for an independent review of the programme. 

Meanwhile, MPs of the three main parties say they will renew this autumn an early day motion, which notes the concerns of the 23 academics and calls for an independent review of the NPfIT. 

Labour MP David Taylor, an IT manager for more than 18 years and a sponsor of the current early day motion, said the projected costs of the programme appeared to be “running amok”.

Taylor said he had been unable to ascertain whether its leaders were working to any key performance indicators. He was also critical of the lack of concrete objective information on the programme.

Key NHS supplier awaits an uncertain future

The future of iSoft, one of the largest suppliers of key systems to NHS trusts, is the subject of speculation after its share price fell to 52p last week, from a high of more than 450p last year.

The company has announced a change to its accounting practices and is cutting 150 jobs. iSoft is now worth less than it was when it floated in 2000.

Analysts say several companies are interested in a takeover. iSoft is the main software contractor in three of the five “cluster” areas of the NHS National Programme for IT. It is a key legacy system supplier in all five areas. 


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