Unite, the UK’s largest union, has called the government to act quickly and decisively to safeguard the jobs and skills of hundreds of people working on the £12.7bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT] in the NHS for services company Fujitsu.
On Friday 20 June 2008 Fujitsu announced the potential redundancy of nearly 700 people working on the NHS contract. It follows the decisions of Fujitsu to withdraw from contract negotiations and termination of the £1.1bn contract to supply NHS trusts in the south of England announced two weeks ago.
There are nearly 1,000 people in Fujitsu working on the NPfIT.
But NHS Connecting for Health, which runs much of the NPfIT, has issued a statement which suggests today (23 June 2008) that the programme may absorb some of the jobs. CfH says:
“… We are examining with Fujitsu their desire to deliver the Picture Archiving aspect of the Programme, which could further reduce the number of staff potentially affected.
“We have indicated to Fujitsu that where any service transfers to another supplier, we expect TUPE to apply and staff associated with that work would transfer to that other supplier.
“Furthermore we have already agreed to bring together Fujitsu and other suppliers working on delivery of the National Programme for IT to assist in reducing the impact of the termination on skilled IT staff.”
But CfH has been more forthright in its criticism of Fujitsu than in the past. It said in its statement that “the Department terminated the NHS IT contract with Fujitsu, following failures to deliver the contracted services”.
On Fujitsu’s announcement of the job cuts, Peter Skyte, Unite’s National Officer, said:
“The Government must make a quick decision to end the present uncertainty and insecurity for the highly skilled IT people working on the NHS contract for Fujitsu.
“Government must act to ensure that the knowledge and skills gained in working for Fujitsu are retained, whoever the provider or providers are in the future, and ensure that the skilled staff can help the project continue to a successful conclusion in the interests of patients, the NHS and the health of the nation”
At a inquiry into the NPfIT by the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee on Monday 16 June, Peter Hutchinson Fujitsu’s Group Director, UK Public Services, explained the background to the company’s decision to withdraw from contract re-negotiations, which triggered a termination of the contract by the Department of Health and the NHS.
This is some of what Peter Hutchinson said:
“There were a lot of delays in getting paid for things which was quite frustrating. There is no question that local trusts withheld agreements for payment in order to force us to make further changes to the system and keep us under pressure. These were changes to the contracted requirements to suit the particular requirements of particular trusts.
Liberal Democrat MP on the accounts committee Paul Burstow then asked Hutchinson: “So you had a contract to deliver something and they [trusts] wanted something extra?”
Hutchinson: “That has been a feature of this all the way through, yes. We received 650 change requests.”
Bustow: “Is that characterization a correct one, Mr Nicholson? [David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS] Do you accept there have been a lot of attempts at contract creep here?
Nicholson: “There has certainly been a lot of discussion between ourselves and Fujitsu about what constitutes contract change and what constitutes non-delivery on the contract. My guess is that that is going to be the subject of a whole series of discussions between ourselves and Fujitsu over the next period.”
Burstow: “Discussions that have been going on for quite a long time already?”
Nicholson. “Interestingly not ones we have had with BT or CSC to anything like that degree.”
Burstow then asked if the Cerner Release 0 Care Records Service being installed by Fujitsu in the south of England was limited in its functionality.
Peter Hutchinson replied: “Release 0 has been the subject of many changes. That is what has delayed the arrival of later releases. The payment disputes were a side effect of that. This is really where the issue of standardisation versus localisation comes in.
“In the real world that we live in of deploying systems, the reasons why there have been more changes in the south is because we have deployed more of the systems to more trusts; we have set up more projects, with more trusts, of the strategic system. The constant need to change systems to meet local requirements which was not originally envisaged in the contract has been the major cause of delay.
Burstow: “So the intention had been from those who contracted with you was to have a one- size- fits-all?
Hutchinson: “Ruthless standardisation was the watchword, yes.”
Burstow asked if the intention of a “contract re-set” was for NHS trusts to have access to the full Cerner product.
Hutchinson replied: “Part of the re-set was a greater level of local flexibility to meet the local needs of the trust. That was a fundamental part of it. I would also say there was more clinical functionality in Release Zero than most trusts actually used. The order communications functionality that some people say is missing is actually there.”
Burstow: “Why were trusts not using that which was already there?”
Hutchinson: “Because the change process, as noted, is very onerous on trusts. It’s tough for changes to go through. Most trusts decided to be less ambitious and apply less functionality than was actually available.”
Burstow: what happens now?
Gordon Hextall of NHS Connecting for Health said: “There are eight live families of [NHS] sites and they continue to be supported by Fujitsu while we look to arrange for an alternative supplier to take responsibility for those live sites. It is a priority to keep those sites running and Fujitsu has agreed to co-operate during that transition. For the remainder of the trusts then in the South we have a number of options –
Burstow: “How long will that interim arrangement be?”
Hextall: “As quickly as possible for all parties. I don’t think it’s any secret that we are talking to BT about maintaining those live sites. Clearly BT will need to do due diligence before they take responsibility for something like that. It’s likely to be a month before that due diligence is likely to be complete.”
Burstow: “What was the rationale behind Local Service Provider contracts in the context of the software – trusts could not go directly to the software supplier for any support?
Hextall: The advantages of LSPs are that they are world-class systems integrators; they are is to be able to take a product with good clinical functionality which needs to be re-engineered so it can be made available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the right levels of resilience and disaster recovery to back that up.
“So the LSP is bringing expertise in programme management, expertise in systems integration on a large scale, because typically an acute hospital have between 20 and 40 existing systems that all have to integrate with the new product – not a trivial task – and also having the financial ability to bear that level of financial risk.”
Burstow: “The model has been tested to destruction in the last few months?”
Hextall: “It has been tested to show that it works.”
Connecting for Health’s statement of today (23 June 2008) in full The Department terminated the NHS IT contract with Fujitsu, following failures to deliver the contracted services.
Fujitsu have advised us that they have had around 800 people working on the programme to date, so we would not expect the number who may be affected by this termination within Fujitsu to be greater. We are examining with Fujitsu their desire to deliver the Picture Archiving aspect of the Programme, which could further reduce the number of staff potentially affected.
We have indicated to Fujitsu that where any service transfers to another supplier, we expect TUPE to apply and staff associated with that work would transfer to that other supplier.
Furthermore we have already agreed to bring together Fujitsu and other suppliers working on delivery of the National Programme for IT to assist in reducing the impact of the termination on skilled IT staff.