Was the biggest mistake of the NHS IT project the fact that the successes weren't talked about?

The NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT) is probably the most heavily criticised government IT project of all time?

A former colleague of mine, Tony Collins, did a brilliant job revealing disaster after disaster in the £13bn project. IT service providers, quite rightly have also been criticised.

I must point out he also wrote about success stories.

But I was with a director of an IT services company the other day and although he reckons the NPfIT was always likely to fail because it was just too big, he says one of the biggest mistakes made by Connecting for Health was not to talking enough about the success stories. This wouldn’t happen in the private sector.

“A lot of the systems in the NPfIT have been implemented and are working.”

He singled out PACS and Choose and Book for praise.

PACS is the picture archiving and communications system.

It allows x-rays to be stored and transported electronically. The benefits are obvious. For example a doctor in the US can look at a UK x-ray or a doctor can view it while travelling.

The other thing he praised was Choose and Book. This is an online Appointment booking system.

“I have used Choose and Book and I think it is brilliant,” said my contact. “Connecting for Health has not talked about the successes.”

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It's too easy to be critical of the "national programme" without really understanding what we are being critical about. The programme was HUGE and had many many components, some of which were a good idea and some which maybe weren't; some of which were successful and others weren't.

What will not go away is the need for healthcare to use this kind of technology. So if you get rid of the programme, the need doesn't go away. We will now, no doubt, go back to thousand of local procurements with all that overhead piled on to the suppliers and that subsequent cost piled onto the NHS. We will lose the massive discounts which the programme brought. However, by going back to local procurements, you will get more local buy-in. Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between (as I have argued for five years now - see "The NHS IT Project: The Biggest Computer Programme in the World Ever!") reduce the bureaucracy around the selection of systems by having some nationally agreed accreditation and framework contracts. You can buy any clinical system you want as long as it does X Y or Z and conforms to A B C standards. Reduce the priority of the National Record as initially envisaged. The local "beauty parade" will then be more about local buy-in and suitability that a robust; critical and exhaustive (exhausting) selection process.

Just a thought !