Prof Martyn Thomas calls for end to failing projects, delays and wastage

In a letter to the Financial Times Martyn Thomas, one of the 23 leading IT academics who has signed open letters calling for an independent review of the NHS’s National Programme for IT [NPfIT], calls for an end to the “cycle of insufficient consultation with the users, poor specification and planning, failing projects and the delays and wastage that result”.

This is his letter to the FT:

Nicholas Timmins reports (NHS shakes up £12bn IT programme, October 6) that a study is under way within the DoH to establish whether the NHS IT programme (NPfIT) “will actually work”.

In April 2006, 23 Professors of Computing and Systems wrote an open letter to the Health Select Committee saying that the NPfIT was showing symptoms that had preceded the failure of other major IT projects, and calling for an independent review to maximise the chances of success.

The following week, we met the Director of Connecting for Health, Richard Granger, who agreed that a constructive review could be helpful to the project, but it never happened.

Since then, many milestones have been missed by NPfIT, one supplier has left the project and another has run into difficulties, Dr Granger has announced his departure, and both the National Audit Office and the Health Committee have strongly criticised the progress that has been made on implementing electronic patient records.

Now it appears that there will be “less concentration on the national summary record” although this was originally seen as the primary objective of the programme.

Questions remain. Why did Ministers block the constructive review that the 23 professors proposed and that Dr Granger supported? Will the current review draw on fully independent expertise and have access to all the information held by the main contractors? Will the findings and conclusions be published, so that other Departments can learn from what has happened?

Public sector IT programmes should be reviewed, openly and independently at key milestones, and suppliers should be required to co-operate fully with the reviews as a condition of their contracts. Then, perhaps, we can break the cycle of insufficient consultation with the users, poor specification and planning, failing projects and the delays and wastage that result.


About Martyn Thomas:

Professor Martyn Thomas is an independent consultant systems engineer. He specialises in the procurement, acquisition and assessment of large, real-time, safety-critical, software intensive systems, software engineering, and engineering management.

He was awarded the CBE in the 2007 New Year Honours List for services to software engineering.

He is a former partner at Deloitte Consulting, and serves on the Advisory Group for the UK Government Foresight programme on Intelligent Infrastructure Systems. He is also Visiting Professor in Software Engineering at the University of Oxford, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and at the University of Bristol.

He is on the IT policy-making bodies of both UK professional computing institutions, the British Computer Society and the Institution of Electrical Engineers. He has also been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

He chairs the steering committee for the UK’s major research collaboration in dependability, and he is the only European member of a US National Academy of Sciences study into Certifiably Dependable Software.


NHS shakes up £12bn IT programme – article in Financial Times, October 2007

Top campaigner for independent review of NHS’s IT scheme receives New Year Honour

Experts strike new NHS warning note

23 academics invited to NHS Connecting for Health meeting

Calls for independent review of NHS IT system

Dossier of concerns over NPfIT (5.7MB)