Ben Bradshaw, the minister in charge of the NHS’s National Programme for IT [NPfIT], has responded to a post on this blog about his having made an incorrect statement to the House of Commons.
On 21 February 2008, in a Commons debate on the Health Committee’s report on electronic health records, Bradshaw cleared suppliers to the NPfIT of any responsibility for delays. He told the Commons that the delays have not been because of problems with supply, delivery or systems.
“We accept that there have been delays, not only in the roll-out of summary care records, but in the whole NHS IT programme. It is important to put on record that those delays were not because of problems with supply, delivery or systems, but pretty much entirely because we took extra time to consult on and try to address record safety and patient confidentiality, and we were absolutely right to do so.”
We pointed out to NHS Connecting for Health, which runs part of the NPfIT, that the boards of NHS trusts have criticised the programme’s suppliers for delays; and penalties have been levied against some suppliers.
Now Ben Bradshaw, in a clarifying statement to Computer Weekly, says the delays were “partly” because of the need to secure consensus among clinicians over what medical details should be included in the Summary Care Record. His statement excludes a repetition of his assertion to Parliament that the delays were not because of problems with supply, delivery or systems.
“I acknowledged that there had been some delays and wish to clarify that in the context of the Summary Care Record, which is what I was addressing in that part of the debate [in the House of Commons].
“The delays were partly caused because of the need to secure consensus of the medical profession on its contents. The medical profession has been divided, with GPs typically favouring less or no clinical information being placed in the national summary record and hospital doctors wishing there to be more.”
On this blog I’d said it was inconceivable that Ben Bradshaw would knowingly mislead the House of Commons, but there were questions about the accuracy or completeness of his briefings. We should be able to trust what ministers tell the House of Commons on the NPfIT.
For executives in the NHS who have been waiting two years or more for new systems to replace worn-out legacy equipment Bradshaw’s comments that the delays weren’t the fault of suppliers was more than irritating.
The clarifying statement from Ben Bradshaw clarifies little; though it accepts that lack of agreement among doctors over what should be included in summary care records is only a partial reason for delays.
Most of the delays – which Bradshaw’s statement made no acknowledgment of – were because suppliers were unable to deliver software to NHS trusts that was fit-for-purpose and “one-size-fits-all”. Some would say the suppliers were asked to deliver the impossible – and took on contractual responsibility for doing so.
The “Hansard” record of debates in the House of Commons record has not been corrected. But Bradshaw’s statement is welcome nevertheless. It shows he is listening. It’s also worth pointing out in Bradshaw’s favour that it’s rare for any minister to issue clarifying comments after they’ve made an incorrect statement to the House of Commons.
PS The Chief Deployment Officer at NHS Connecting for Health, Claire Mitchell, told the Health Service Journal in January 2008 that suppliers have been “struggling to deliver” on local service provider contracts.
She said [requires registration]:
“For the last year I have been involved with the local service provider contracts. The fact that some of our suppliers are struggling to deliver on these has been very transparent. In a situation like this you have fundamentally got to believe that in the end the strategy will work.”