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NHS IT scheme spends £1.5bn less than expected

Spending on the main contracts under­pinning the NHS's national IT scheme up to April 2007 was £1.5bn less than the Department of Health had expected, according to figures released by the government last week.

The reduced spend on the main IT contracts under the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) was largely because of delays in the delivery of new systems, and therefore fewer implementations in trusts. BT, CSC and Fujitsu, the local service providers to the NPfIT, are paid mainly when they reach milestones and have systems accepted by trusts.

The Department of Health spent £1.3bn by April 2007. It expected to have spent £2.8bn on its main IT contracts by that time.

The central costs of what are described as "activity and projects" within NHS Connecting for Health, which runs part of the NPfIT, were more in line with its expectations. In 2004, officials expected to have spent £695m by April 2007 - the actual figure was £647m.

The figures have been released by the Department of Health in its first "benefits statement" for the NPfIT after the National Audit Office (NAO) recommended it quantify financial benefits and service improvements, set against costs.

The NAO also called for a study to measure the impact of the programme on local NHS IT spending - both costs and savings - where national systems were being deployed. This should be used, said the NAO, to "provide an up-to-date assessment of the overall investment case for the programme".

The benefits statement, which was released last Thursday at a media event chaired by health minister Ben Bradshaw, goes part of the way towards meeting the NAO recommendations.

The statement said there had been savings of £208m up to April 2007, £192m of which was saved as a result of the N3 national broadband network supplied by BT.

By the time the 10-year contracts with local service providers expire in 2014, the Department of Health expects to have saved £1.14bn - not taking into account the expected improvements in services to doctors and patients.

David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS, said, "The report shows we have made really solid progress against delivering an integrated IT systems for the NHS."

The benefits statement had been expected last summer but was delayed until last week. Health officials said it had been a challenging task to research and produce the document.

Read more on Tony Collins' blog


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