Lord Hunt, the health minister most closely associated with the launch of the NHS’s National Programme for IT, has left the Department of Health in Gordon Brown’s shuffling of ministerial posts.
Less than four months ago, in March 2007, Lord Hunt told the HC2007 healthcare conference at Harrogate that he was pleased to be back as health minister.
He had attended a meeting at Downing Street in February 2002 at which the NPfIT was tentatively approved.
He left the government in protest at the Iraq war and returned to the Department of Health in January 2007.
He had said at the Harrogate healthcare conference in March 2007:
“I am delighted to be here and to be back as Minister for the Department of Health. I am also delighted to have been given responsibility for IT. My title is Minister for Quality, and I am also responsible for patient safety and I see IT as playing an integral role in this.
“I was responsible for NPfIT when it was established and, having been away for four years as Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions it is good to come back and see how it has progressed.”
Lord Hunt has been a passionate supporter of the NPfIT. A slide he presented to the Harrogate 2007 healthcare conference, which was headed “challenges to future delivery”, made these claims for the NPfIT:
– “The technology has already been delivered – the remaining hurdle is to utilise these systems fully at local level.
– “The key challenges and risks to delivery are now not about the technology to support NPfIT but about attitudes and behaviours which need to be the focus of attention as we move forward.”
In April Lord Hunt dismissed a damning report on the NPfIT by the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee – before the government had given its formal response to the committee’s findings . Lord Hunt said at the time: “This Public Accounts Committee Report is based on a NAO (National Audit Office) report that is now a year out of date.”
Patricia Hewitt, who was Secretary of State for Health, and was another ardent supporter of the NPfIT, has been replaced by Alan Johnson.
Whether the assurances given by Lord Hunt on the NPfIT have any significance now he has left the Department of Health is open to debate.
The number of Government ministers who have been spokespeople for the NPfIT is 14 so far, all of whom have left the Department of Health.