Connecting for Health unilaterally changes wording of agreed statement

Connecting for Health, the agency which runs the National Programme for IT in the NHS [NPfIT], has unilaterally changed the wording of a public statement it agreed with 23 academics.

Officials at Connecting for Health had agreed the statement at their meeting with academics at Richmond House, Whitehall, headquarters of the Department of Health, in April 2006.

The meeting had been arranged so that representatives of the 23 academics could discuss an open letter they had written to the House of Commons’ Health Committee. The letter expressed concerns about the NPfIT and called for an independent technical audit of the programme. The meeting was attended by Richard Granger, head of Connecting for Health, BT and others.

At the end of their meeting, Connecting for Health and representatives of the academics agreed the wording of a very short statement to summarise what had been discussed. The statement was issued on the website of Connecting for Health, and was reported in the national media. It publicised Connecting for Health’s support for a constructive and independent review.

It said originally: “There was agreement that a constructive and pragmatic independent review of the programme could be valuable.”

But since then the wording of the statement has been changed without the agreement of the academics. The sentence, quoted above, which expressed qualified support for a review, has been replaced with one that no longer offers any clear support. The statement says now: “Ministers are considering whether or not such a review would help progress this large scale programme.”

Martyn Thomas, visiting professor of software engineering at Oxford University, said he was surprised at the change of wording. “I hope that this does not mean that Dr Granger is retreating from his earlier statement that an independent review could be useful.”

Asked whether it was right for Connecting for Health to change unilaterally the wording of the agreed statement, a spokesman for the agency said:

“It is reasonable for our corporate position to have evolved and in the spirit of openness and transparency to reflect that in our public statements.”

My comment:

There is something vaguely Orwellian about a government agency’s changing quietly the wording of an agreed statement in the light of developments. Ideally the agency should have made it clear it was changing the wording.

Within some ministeries there is a view that there are two versions of the truth – theirs and everyone else’s. Not within Connecting for Health we hope.

The changed wording hints at a lack of enthusiasm among ministers for an independent review of the NPfIT, perhaps in part because they do not want to lose control over any publication of the results. The outcomes of internal reviews on the NPfIT have not been published. The question is: what do they have to hide?