Whitehall officials did not want external report on NHS's £12.4bn IT scheme published

NHS Connecting for Health, which is an agency of the Department of Health, has asked for an external report on the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT] not to be published. The report includes far-reaching criticisms of the programme.

NHS Connecting for Health asked the British Computer Society, which has thousands of members working in support of front-line NHS services, not to publish a carefully-worded report on the strengths and weaknesses of the 10-year IT scheme.

On 26 January 2007 David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS, called for more openness over the National Programme. He said that Connecting for Health should come out of ts “bunker mentality”.

The British Computer Society has for several years been a committed ally of Connecting for Health. It has wanted to work behind the scenes with Connecting for Health, as what it calls a “critical friend” on the National Programme for IT.

But the two organisations have come into conflict over a report produced by the British Computer Society entitled: “The Way Forward for NHS Health Informatics – Where should NHS Connecting for Health go from here?”

The report is largely positive about the National Programme, but it also says that the “services deployed so far represent poor value for money”, that political pressure has caused health officials to “deny problems and to defend the indefensible,” and that implementation plans that have “all too frequently ranged from the optimistic to the unreal”.

The report’s author, Ian Herbert, vice-chairman of the British Computer Society’s Health Informatics Forum, revealed at this month’s HC2007 Healthcare IT conference at Harrogate that Richard Granger, chief executive of Connecting for Health, after seeing a draft, did not want the report published.

Despite the request, the Society decided in December 2006 to publish the report

Herbert said: “It was an interesting process developing that report. Richard Granger was not keen that we publish it, but was keen that we did something else rather more opaquely behind closed doors. We were not prepared to do that. We owed more to our members. So we produced the report”.

A spokesman for Connecting for Health said, “It is a matter for the British Computer Society and other bodies to publish any reports they commission. NHS Connecting for Health had offered to work with the British Computer Society on a joint action plan but they chose not to accept that offer.”

The British Computer Society revealed that it had made 17 changes to its report at the request of Connecting for Health, though did not make all the requested alterations.

David Clarke, Chief Executive of the British Computer Society, said the Society’s Health Informatics Forum has always sought a close working relationship with Connecting for Health.

The Society wanted to work with Connecting for Health on a joint action plan, but “not as an alternative to publishing our report, which we felt was balanced, fair and fully in support of the objectives of the programme”, said Clarke.

Martyn Thomas, a Fellow of the British Computer Society and one of 23 academics who have called for an independent audit of the NPfIT, said: “I am delighted that the BCS has not yielded to pressure to withdraw the report. It is essential that professional societies maintain their independence.”

He added that the British Computer Society has in the past acted as a critical friend to Connecting for Health. “It may be that the British Computer Society has taken the view that it has done all it can behind the scenes and cannot afford to compromise its integrity by backing away from being critical in public.”

Connecting for Health withdrew at short notice its three key speakers from a large IT healthcare conference at Harrogate in March 2007, which was co-sponsored by the British Computer Society.

The disagreement between the British Computer Society and Connecting for Health comes at a bad time for the Department of Health. It is trying harder than in previous years to improve the credibility of the National Programme in the eyes of clinicians and NHS professionals.

On 26 April 2007 the House of Commons’ Health Committee begins its inquiry into aspects of the national programme. It will look at concerns over the confidentiality of patient records and why the programme’s Care Records Service is two years late.


Computer Weekly’s campaigning journalism over the NHS’s National Programme for IT has led to its being shortlisted for Campaign of the Year in the PPA Awards for Editorial and Publishing Excellence.