In defence of NPfIT's "owner" David Nicholson

David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS, has his critics but they’d be on unsafe ground if they accused him of lacking passion – or of false modesty.

Normally, at any hearing of the Public Accounts Committee, the civil servants who have spent an hour or two being interrogated by MPs, are relieved when the chairman announces: “Thank you. That concludes our hearing.”  In the wood-panelled corridor outside the committee room, the civil service witnesses then joke sometimes among themselves about the questions they weren’t asked.  

David Nicholson is not like that. To his credit he takes his job extremely seriously: the Department of Health likes to choose as its leaders visionaries who will give passionate speeches in defence of whatever they’re responsible for. 

Which could explain why those appointed to run the NPfIT have spoken – and continue to speak – about the programme with a proselytizing passion that’s intolerant of criticism.   

Nicholson is not just a defender of the NPfIT. When Edward Leigh drew a recent Public Accounts Committee hearing to a close, Nicholson seemed reluctant to leave. He made a short uninvited speech.

Agenda for Change is a dry topic – it’s about standardizing the pay of NHS employees. But Nicholson brought the subject alive. He put Agenda for Change into planetary terms.  

“Can I finally say,” he said, “this was the biggest job evaluation and implementation scheme probably on the planet. It was remarkably successful …”

It’s not just the scheme that is successful. Surely it’s you, Mr Nicholson?

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Passion don't butter no parsnips. We have had oodles of passion before in this programme, without translation into substance ; remember the previous passion for squeezing providers until the pips squeaked? Where has that got us?

What is needed now is an effective information system. It's past high time for NPfIT to get on with delivering promises, or get off the pot.

It's interesting to contrast the passion among some NPfIT evangelists with the almost detached pragmaticism of those running the ID Cards/Passport service programme. The Identity and Passport Service officials don't look for praise for what they've achieved so far, annoint their followers, or hail what they plan to achieve. They just give the facts (though not always all of them).

Is there not a code of conduct for people attending these Select Committee meetings? Could Mr Nicholson's comment be described as a form of bullying people who are there to scrutinize on behalf of the public?

It shows a lack of respect for the process. Since Mr Nicholson's appointment people attending SHA meetings are handed a code of conduct paper which prevents them for speaking unless invited by the Chair, making it hard for anyone with concerns to air them in public. Is it one rule for them and another for Joe public, whose only avenue is to use the complaints system as a means of being heard?

I think the Select Committee should censure Mr Nicholson as it gives a bad example to others attending in the future. [edited]