At a press conference in Whitehall last week [13 March 2008] doctors who work on different parts of the NHS’s National Programme for IT – NPfIT – flanked the health minister Ben Bradshaw.
Their repeated use of the word “exciting” to refer to the NPfIT or their work on it reinforced the impression that the programme has become politicized.
If the programme replaces paper files that are easily lost with electronic records that are easily shared the NPfIT will be welcomed by many. And millions of patients will, no doubt, be pleased when they can view part of their medical records online. But would they be excited to do so? How many doctors will be excited by the NPfIT?
A programme of the size, complexity and problems of the NPfIT needs those working on it to be harshly objective. If they’re excited to be working on it they may not welcome a re-assessment that leads to a major change of course or a scaling back. They will almost certainly be opposed to an independent review.
One doctor at the press conference used the word “exciting” four times in the opening four sentences: first, when referring to the work being done within NHS Connecting for Health, which runs part of the NPfIT, second, to a product, and then twice to the programme’s opportunities.
Another doctor mentioned the word three times in the opening five sentences but had the humour to recognise its over-use. “We can fight over whose [work] is more exciting,” said the second doctor.
Untouched by any of this, a third doctor, by way of an introduction, said: “We are all excited by what we’re doing …”
Perhaps the doctors were drawn to hyperbole by sitting close to the minister. And Ben Bradshaw seems to want around him people who are excited by the NPfIT.
He told the press conference, when asked whether the NPfIT was on budget and meeting expectations: “I think there is a great temptation in this country to always do ourselves down and not to compare ourselves where we justifiably can as world-leaders. Our patients are reaping the benefits every day, more than more.”
It’s understandable that transitory ministers – there have been more than 10 in charge of the NPfIT – would welcome the existence of a gap of expedience between their knowledge of the NPfIT and objective fact.
But it means that the NPfIT will forever lack a political leader who can stomach reality.