Last Wednesday, 11 June 2008, several MPs on the Public Accounts Committee walked a short distance from their offices to Richmond House in Whitehall, the headquarters of the Department of Health.
One was the Conservative MP Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee. They were there to see a demonstration of the delayed “Lorenzo” Care Records Service software, a product that’s vital to the success of the NHS’s £12.7bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT].
Lorenzo is due to be being delivered by CSC and IBA Health, in part to provide an electronic health record to the 30 million people in CSC’s constituency.
Officials at Department of Health and NHS Connecting for Health would have been delighted if the demonstration had been reassuring – proof that critics of the NHS’s National Programme for IT were ignoring the good news, the parts of the NPfIT that are working.
One MP smiled inwardly when he saw that the Lorenzo demonstration was on a large screen built by Fujitsu whose contract as an NPfIT local service provider was terminated last month.
Some of the most enthusiastic advocates of the NPfIT were there to greet the MPs with Lorenzo menus.
One was Dr Simon Eccles, National Clinical Director at CfH and a consultant in emergency medicine at Homerton Hospital, London. After several years of diligent work, Homerton’s IT staff have successfully ironed most of the problems with Cerner, a Care Records Service equivalent of Lorenzo.
They attribute some of their success with Cerner to having a relationship directly with the company (outside of the NPfIT) – no local service provider as a middle-man.
But Lorenzo is being supplied through a middle-man.
Another advocate at the demonstration was the Department of Health’s latest interim head of IT in the NHS, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS Medical Director.
Richard Bacon, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, questioned various officials about when Lorenzo would go live at the early adopter sites at Morecambe Bay Hospitals NHS Trust, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and South Birmingham PCT.
He says he was given different answers, ranging from July to no date at all because the trusts were not certain when they would be ready.
The demonstration did not allay Bacon’s concerns. He said that seeing a system apparently working on a single large screen did not necessarily prove it would work when used by doctors and health staff across many PCs at various hospital sites that form an NHS trust.
Ministers have tried to counter criticism of delays with the Care Records Service by occasionally announcing new sets of dates when the first sites will go live. But the dates for go-lives have been deferred repeatedly. The Lorenzo software is already running four years behind schedule, according to the report of the National Audit Office which was published on 16 May 2008.
A day after the demonstration Bacon read in the media that there have been delays at the three sites he’d mentioned.
Indeed Morecambe Bay, which was due to be the first trust to go live with Lorenzo on 16 June confirmed today that it has not done so; and its spokeswoman said the trust doesn’t know when it will go live.
Morecambe Bay , Bradford South Birmingham have issued a statement saying that “deployment testing is identifying technical issues which are being resolved on an ongoing basis”.
The three hope to go live this summer with Lorenzo Release 1 – but they give no commitment to any date in their statement.
In February 2008 Ben Bradshaw, the minister in charge of the NPfIT, told the House of Commons in February that three early adopter NHS trusts would implement the “Lorenzo” Care Records Service in June.
Today (16 June 2008) the Public Accounts Committee is scheduled to have a hearing on the NPfIT. MPs are due to question David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS and Gordon Hextall, Chief Operating Officer at NHS Connecting for Health.
One concern of MPs is that some NHS trusts may be pressurized to go live with a system that’s not ready, to meet promises made by ministers and the Department of Health’s financial contractual commitments to local service providers.
The committee is also expected to question Peter Hutchinson , Group Director, UK Public Services, Fujitsu, on why the company decided to withdraw from negotiations over a contract re-set which triggered the early termination of its £1bn NPfIT contract.