Brave minister Lord Warner sees £12bn NPfIT NHS plan at first hand

When the health minister Lord Warner wanted to see first-hand the success of the National Programme for IT [NPfIT] he ended up, with the help of officials, at Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. It seemed a safe bet – or should have been.

The Barnsley area was a pioneer of Choose and Book, a key part of the NPfIT which should allow patients and GPs to book hospital appointments online. The trust has also installed PACS – a proven digital x-ray technology which has clear benefits for patients and hospital staff.

PACS was being installed before the advent of the NPfIT but it became one of the programme’s main products in September 2004.

Lord Warner’s visit was reported in an e-magazine on the website of Connecting for Health, which runs the NPfIT. It is an agency of the Department of Health.

The e-magazine has a picture of Lord Warner with the caption: “Lord Warner meets Marjorie Rowlands, a satisfied patient of Choose and Book.”

The article reports that Lord Warner’s visit “coincided with news that a million patients have selected hospital appointments at a place and time which suits them through Choose and Book.”

On the next page, near the end of an article on Lord Warner’s visit, the bulletin says:

“Lord Warner had specifically requested a staff engagement session to hear first-hand from people on the front-line who work with the systems installed through NPfIT. Staff who have been involved with Choose and Book, PACS and NHSmail took part. They clearly welcomed the efficiencies the new systems bring, but pulled no punches with specific criticisms about software and implementation issues.”

The article concludes: “At the end of the session, Lord Warner described hospital staff as ‘a courageous lot’ for being pioneers within the NHS, and promised to take some of the issues raised up with Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT.”

All credit to Lord Warner for wanting to see how the NPfIT works at the front line. But it is nearly five years since one of Lord Warner’s predecessors Lord Hunt announced the national programme for IT.

One wonders how many years it will be before trusts cease to be described as pioneers.