Calls for an independent review of the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT] were met with scepticism at a meeting of the Commons’ Health Committee last week, despite increasing evidence of failings in the programme.
Papers submitted to the committee expressed concerns about the programme, including a submission from the NHS confederation, which represents more than 90% of all statutory NHS organisations.
There was also a submission from Frank Burns, former head of NHS IT, who said the health service may not end up with the sophisticated clinical management systems that are needed.
Earlier this month the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee also said it is “unlikely that significant clinical benefits will be delivered” by the end of the NPfIT contracts, most of which are due to run until 2014.
But at the start of an inquiry of the Health Committee into aspects of the NPfIT, calls for an independent inquiry of the NPfIT were disparaged. Twenty-three IT experts had written an open letter to the committee calling for an independent technical audit.
Richard Granger, Director General of NHS IT, questioned the independence of some of those who are calling for a review. He said: “I am interested as to whether the people calling for the review are themselves independent. The programme has been the subject of significant scrutiny both from National Audsit Office and the Office of Government Commerce and a number of reviews which we have commissioned as a consequence of events or concerns that have occurred over time.
“Ministers took a decision last year that there was no benefit in a further review being undertaken of the programme. That was the position set out by Lord Warner in Spring of last year.”
When the chairman of the Health Committee Kevin Barron asked Granger whether an independent review would “seek to get answers to questions that some people believe remain unanswered”, Granger replied:
“I don’t know whether we have to go through 350,000 people using systems that didn’t exist four 4 years ago, with billions of pieces of information flying around a network that didn’t exist, with hundreds of thousands of people using security framework that didn’t exist… for people who want to work from an evbidence base, the door has always been open for them to come and work with us. But people who just lob cold collations of negative media coverage in so called dossiers hardly do themselves a service as a serious group of people that are working from a robust evidence base.”
Barron MP, a Labour loyalist, appeared to disparage some of the comments made by Martyn Thomas, a visiting professor of software engineering at Oxford University Computing Laboratory, who had set out the benefits of an independent review of the NPfIT.
When Thomas explained what an independent review could find, Barron replied: “What you described earlier has more to do with an inquest.”
Some witnesses said after the hearing of the Health Committee that they formed the impression that Barron was hostile to the idea of an independent review of the NPfIT.