Health Committee inquiry kicks off with evidence from Richard Granger, Director General of NHS IT

An inquiry by the House of Commons’ Health Committee into aspects of the NHS’s National Programme for IT [NPfIT] will begin with a hearing on 26 April at which Richard Granger, Director General of NHS IT, will answer questions from MPs.

Other witnesses on that day will be:

• Harry Cayton, National Director for the Patients and the Public,Department of Health

• Dr Gillian Braunold, National Clinical Lead for GPs, Connecting for Health

• Dr Paul Cundy, Chair, General Practitioners’ Joint IT Committee

• Dr Martyn Thomas, visiting Professor of Software Engineering, University of Oxford

• Andrew Hawker, NHS patient

On Thursday 10 May, the following will give evidence:

• Douwe Korff, Professor of International Law, London Metropolitan University

• Joyce Robbins, Co-Director, Patient Concern

• Jonathan Bamford, Assistant Information Commissioner

• Andrew Spence, Solution Director, NHS Account, Computer Sciences Corporation

• Brian Randell, Professor of Computing Science, Newcastle University

There will be further hearings on Thursday 7 and Thursday 14 June. We don’t know yet who the witnesses will be.

Of the witnesses named so far, four are known to be enthusiastic supporters of almost every aspect of the programme. A smaller number – three – are known to be enthusiastic supporters of the objectives of the programme but have independent views on how things are going.

The disadvantage for committee members is that they are likely to hear much conflicting evidence and so – in the absence of the results of an independent review – will probably have difficulty knowing what to believe.

If in the main they accept the official version of events, they will probably salute the achievements of the NPfIT, or will see the slow take-up of new technology as largely the fault of change-fearing doctors and a reactionary NHS. If they accept other versions of events, they may, we hope, call for an independent, published review of the NPfIT.

The likelihood is that MPs will accept some evidence from the programme’s passionate supporters and some evidence from independent witnesses, thus reaching a conclusion that some things are going well and some things aren’t.

If that happens the inquiry will make little or no difference – that is it may achieve nothing. Possibly that is preferred outcome of the government which has in place a loyal Labour MP, Kevin Barron, as the committee’s chairman.

But with billions of pounds at stake wouldn’t it be better knowing on the basis of facts – that is an independent published review – whether further billions should be poured into the scheme without rethinking its original objectives?

In short it is difficult to know whether the health committee’s inquiry was set up as a genuine attempt to establish the truth, or to show that truth has been sought after.