NAO inquiry into government IT likely

The Times reports today that the National Audit Office is likely to investigate Whitehall’s biggest computer projects and contracts after disclosures that their costs had exceeded the announced figures by more than £18 billion.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “As a result of The Times’s investigation I am going to immediately ask the Comptroller and Auditor-General [the head of the NAO] to investigate the whole matter of government IT spending and in particular the contracts highlighted in the paper.”

The NAO, although independent of the government and Parliament, produces reports and briefings for the Public Accounts Committee and will usually agree to the committee’s request for an investigation. The NAO has reported to the committee on several of the individual projects listed by The Times in its joint investigation with Computer Weekly but an aggregated report could point out common factors, problems and lessons.

Links:

Government IT projects will cost taxpayers £18bn more than expected – Computer Weekly

Watchdog to investigate how government IT projects overran – The Times

Something must be done to break cycle of IT failure – CW Opinion piece in The Times  

£18bn Government IT scandal – 3 pages in The Times today

Secret deals that cost taxpayers billions  

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You do wonder just how informed even Mr Nicholson is? Take the PROMS Patient Reported Outcome Measures which we are told by ministers are due out shortly? If you read the papers presented at the 29th Jan 09 NHS Information for Health and Social care board meeting it is clear there are difficulties.I quote Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) contract needs extending for a further year. The contract via Northgate Information Solutions is due to end with the processing of 2008/9 data!!April this year! Who's kidding who? This will give us sufficient time for the procurement of a new service.The Chair of the NHS IC centre and the Chief Executive fo the Y&HSHA are both partners responsible for IT Governance is this another case of an extention/overrun. Mr Nicholson might like to answer?

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Further comments in the papers, the board recognised the complexities of the programme that covered a number of existing governance structures,the sensitive nature of the various relationships/dependencies and there was further work to be done to clarify accountability arrangements and other aspects. As senior responsible owners do you not think Mr Nicholson should be giving some leadership about structure before this becomes another big mess?

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Large article in todays Times re PROMS. Is this not the very reason why IT has all these problems, promoting new systems before the very infstructure/accountability arrangements are in place? From the 29th Jan 09 until 6th Feb 09 is too soon for The NHS information Centre for Health & Social care to have iprovements/arrangements/accountability put in place.I thought Chairs were meant to ensure good governance? I really do think Mr Nicholson needs to give a full explanation in this case.More importantly sort out accountability arrangements.

[Promis article in The Times: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5671518.ece - ed]

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With regard to the cavalier approach of Number Ten in February 2002 whereby Sir John Pattison and colleagues were given ten minutes to make the case for NPfT in a superficial manner, I would suggest that the most important aspect was the lack of an independent assessment of all proposals. The “advisors” present were in truth potential providers, an unsatisfactory approach to system design. The concentration of the proposal on a national database (England only) as the only method was slipshod.

Was the objective the conveyance of patient data between GP and hospital (in both directions)?

On the basis of KISS, (NASA with its multi million dollar plan for zero gravity ballpoints, USSR using pencils) perhaps consideration should have been given to the Spanish approach, whereby the patient is the means of conveying data.

This approach is not new. Some 15 years ago, DataLink (promoted by Soroptimist International) was a simple manual system consisting plastic container (similar to that for 35mm films) in which the user recorded personal details, GP, allergies, allergic reactions, regular medicines, next of kin, etc) and stored in the egg storage rack of the fridge. Labels were attached to the outside of the fridge and the inside of the front door. Where paramedics have to deal with unconscious patients such data is readily available.

At this time of financial constraints and confusion with NPfT, a radical and thorough independent review is essential to examine all options and hence make a balanced assessment.

Michael J. Forbes

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Michael:

I agree completely. As you say what's needed is a thorough independent review - with the emphasis on "independent".

The Department of Health commissions internal reviews, by those who are already involved in the programme, or external reviews by those who have strong relationships with the NHS.

Independent should mean independent. Otherwise the reviews will probably tell the Department what it wants to hear. The NPfIT has all along suffered from a lack of genuinely independent challenge. And that's still the case.

Tony Collins

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Tony you are absolutely right about the need for independence but I do not see it happening - health is one of the top five most important issues at election time and therefore cannot be left alone by politicians!

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There is an interesting article in Pulse Headed THE DATA CHALLENGE FACED BY PBC by Mike Ramsden, the NAPC [National Association Primary Care) chief Executive and Chair of the NHS Information Centre. I do wonder if Mr Nicholson has sorted out the Job Descriptions of these Executives because from where I'm standing their appears to be lots of cross-over re governance issues!! making it difficult for staff ot know just who to listen too.Worth a read.

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