Lord Warner, minister in charge of the NHS's National Programme for IT "retires".

The retirement of Lord Warner – the minister responsible for the National Programme for IT [NPfiT] in the NHS – is no surprise but it is still unwelcome news.

This blog reported – here – that Lord Warner was beginning to pick up some first hand knowledge of how things on the programme were going, hearing some of the criticisms from front-line staff, and no longer relying on briefings from officials.

Some will speculate that another factor in Warner’s decision was his seemingly jocular promise on BBC’s Newsnight earlier this year to resign if take-up by doctors of the Choose and Book part of the NPfIT fails to meet government targets by March 2007. It has become clear that the target will not be met.

Lord Warner’s retirement is unwelcome because he is another minister responsible for the NPfIT to relinquish that responsibility – the eleventh.

If it all goes wrong with a £12.4bn programme can anyone who has been elected be held responsible? By the time the main parts of the programme are due to have been delivered a new administration will be in place and Tony Blair will certainly have been long gone.

If the government wants to remain unaccountable for the NPfIT it will appoint as Lord Warner’s replacement another minister who is due for retirement – Lord Warner is 66.

The original Senior Responsible Owner of the NPfIT was Sir John Pattison – who retired soon after the programme was underway.

Lord Warner was a committed and loyal minister. In one of his speeches on the NPfIT he said this:

“Let me be clear and unequivocal: the Government is committed to ensuring that NPfIT is fully implemented and delivered. We are not going to be deflected by naysayers from any quarter. We recognise that more needs to be done on articulating the benefits that the Programme will bring to patients and also to NHS staff.”

Tony Blair, commenting on Lord Warner’s retirement, was handed a briefing sheet from his officials entitled “What to Say on a Ministerial Retirement”. Blair duly praised Lord Warner as an “outstanding minister” who can be “justly proud” of his achievements in Government.

A time-limited successor will be appointed early in the new year.