Academics find NHS IT programme is "hampered by financial deficits, poor communication and delays"

An academic study of staff views of the progress of the National Programme for IT [NPfIT] locally has found that financial deficits and poor communication have hampered its implementation.

And the study found that continuing delays could constitute a growing risk to patient safety. The research was published online on 17 May in the British Medical Journal.

In this follow-up to their initial study published in 2005, researchers from King’s College London, Imperial College London, University of Bristol and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, interviewed senior NHS staff in financial, IT and clinical roles. Interviewees unreservedly supported the goals of the programme but had several serious concerns.

As with the 2005 study, the respondents believed that local financial deficits were having a serious impact on the programme. When financial problems continued to worsen, local managers found it difficult to focus on implementing the systems because of competing financial priorities and uncertainties about the programme.

There was concern,too, about a lack of clarity and poor communications from Connecting for Health, the agency responsible for delivering the programme. Some of those interviewed said they felt disempowered and frustrated because decisions were being made by Connecting for Health and local IT service providers without consulting key NHS staff.

After the NPfIT was announced in 2002, some boards of NHS Trusts decided to reduce investment in existing systems. Now there are concerns that existing technology may not be fit for purpose and pose a risk to patient safety.

Professor Naomi Fulop of the School of Social Science and Public Policy at King’s College London said: “We have found that NHS staff support the goals of this programme and believe in the benefits of IT modernisation. But they have a number of serious concerns, in particular potential risks to patient safety. It’s crucial that patient information is stored and accessed via a robust, secure IT system. While the delays continue, IT networks are becoming outdated and there is a real risk that patient care could be compromised.”

Other issues that were identified in this study were a lack of faith in the patient booking system and there was a general questioning of whether the original goals of NHS-wide connectivity could ever be achieved.

In a response to the paper, NHS Connecting for Health told E-Health Insider that patient safety was not an issue: “It is untrue to suggest patient safety is being compromised. NHS CfH is giving full priority to trusts with the oldest existing systems. In the past twelve months alone, we have installed 162 systems in the hospital sector including 15 hospital patient administration systems and 62 picture archiving and communication systems, which capture and store images electronically.

“Progress introducing systems in acute hospitals, like the four in this study, has been slower than expected and some of this has been dependent on legacy IT suppliers and ensuring trusts are fully prepared for the new systems. We and the local service providers work alongside trusts to fully support existing systems ahead of installation of national programme systems.”

The Connecting for Health statement added that the paper identified challenges which they took seriously and were working hard to address.

“This research reveals some of the challenges and frustrations of introducing new IT into the hospital sector. We work with those challenges every day and are working hard in partnership with local NHS organisations to overcome them to make best use of these technologies. This study again shows the huge support for better health informatics in the NHS and the aims of the national programme.

“We take seriously the need to ensure our systems meet NHS needs and that staff are fully engaged with the national programme, which is why on 1 April 2007 strategic health authorities, in partnership with trusts and PCTs, took responsibility for local delivery and implementation of the national programme.”

Is NHS IT programme putting patient safety at risk? – Computer Weekly