Disingenuous statement by Health Minister Lord Hunt, on NHS's National Programme for IT

Below is our comment on a statement issued by Health Minister Lord Hunt in response to a report of the Public Accounts Committee on the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT].

Lord Hunt is a much respected minister. He earned credibility for resigning over the Iraq war – it’s rare that any minister resigns on the basis of principle.

But his credibility should be dented by a disingenuous comment he made on a report of the Public Accounts Committee on the NPfIT. Lord Hunt said the committee’s report is based on a report of the National Audit Office that is “now a year out of date”.

Since the report of the NAO last June:

– The Public Accounts Committee has interviewed expert witnesses on the state of the NPfIT including, Sir Ian Carruthers, Acting Chief Executive of the NHS, Richard Granger, Director General of NHS IT, Richard Jeavons, Director of IT Service Implementation and Director of Service Implementation, NHS Connecting for Health, and Sir Muir Gray, Director of Clinical Safety for Connecting for Health.

– The committee has received several papers from the Department of Health on the NPfIT. One of them gives the cumulative spending on the core contracts for the NHS National Programme for IT up until 31 December 2006 – six months after the NAO report.

– The committee has received several papers from independent experts. On the basis of a review of all this evidence, the committee of public accounts published its report today [17 April 2007].

And, as Lord Hunt knows, some of the biggest developments involving the NPfIT have happened since the NAO in June 2006 – for example Accenture withdrew from its main £2bn worth of contracts in January this year.

Lord Hunt’s self-assured dismissal of the committee’s report is almost reckless given the amount of money involved. And it bodes ill for the NPfIT.

A “must win at all costs” approach and hostility to bad news have been cited by the suppliers’ trade association Intellect as a key factor in the failure of government IT-based projects and programmes.