The head of the NHS told MPs yesterday [16 June 2008] that he has no regrets about rejecting calls by 23 leading academics for an independent review of the NHS’s £12.7bn National IT scheme – even though the main software programme is four years behind schedule.
David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS, said the priority had been to ensure the delivery of software as part of the National Programme for IT [NPfIT]. He made his comments to the Public Accounts Committee at a hearing on the NPfIT on 16 June 2008.
Nicholson’s arguments against a review of the programme were similar to those put by National Air Traffic Services when its board fought a call for an independent assessment of delayed software to support a new air traffic control centre at Swanwick in Hampshire. Directors of NATS lost their battle after a campaign by Computer Weekly.
The government ordered a review – even though directors of NATS had argued that this could distract managers from the more important task of delivering the software. The air traffic control system eventually went live in 2002 – after NATS implemented the recommendations of an independent review by consultancy Arthur D Little.
At the hearing yesterday of the Public Accounts Committee over the NPfIT, Conservative MP Richard Bacon asked Nicholson whether it would have been wise for there to have been a genuinely independent review of the NHS IT programme – by those unconnected with the programme. “Do you wish you’d done that now?” asked Bacon.
Nicholson replied “no” and added that officials at the Department of Health had met the “all the people who have had criticisms of the programme”. Twenty-three academics had written an open letter to the Health Committee in 2006 calling an independent review of the NPfIT – and they wrote another open letter to the committee in 2006.
Nicholson said: “There was no coherent argument for us to have it [an independent review] . The most important thing people said is: you should get on and get something done and delivered. That’s exactly what we have been focusing our attention on.”
Arthur D Little’s report in 1999 on the NATS software project listed serious weaknesses in the way the scheme was being run.
Computer Weekly has campaigned for a similar review of the NPfIT. Nicholson told Bacon that he had read the Arthur D Little report. He said that there have already been reviews of various parts of the NPfIT- but Bacon said the programme needed to be reviewed as a whole.
“No,” said Nicholson. ” I don’t believe that’s sensible at all.”
Nicholson said: “The most important thing now is to deliver. The service [the NHS] is crying out for this product.” He was referring to the Cerner “Millennium” software and the “Lorenzo” system which are due to be delivered to hospitals across England to provide a Care Records Service – a pivotal part of the NPfIT.
The National Audit Office last month found that the Care Records Service – which would give every patient in England an electronic health record – will take at least four years longer than originally planned.
I’ve commented separately on the continued opposition of the government to an independent review of the NPfIT.