Health minister Lord Hunt who is currently a government spokesman for the National Programme for IT [NPfIT], has revealed in an unnoticed Parliamentary reply that the scheme has no end date.
“There is no single national start or completion date for the programme as a whole, or for its individual systems and services. The aim is to achieve substantial integration of health and social care information systems in England under the national programme by 2010”.
The substantial integration of health and social care information systems is too vague an objective to be measured. It could mean that most health and social care systems are to be integrated by 2010. Or it could mean simply that they are linked by NHSmail.
It can also be argued that a programme without an end is a programme that cannot fail. For there would never come a point at which the programme could be judged a failure: if things go badly, the project milestones can simply be reset, an exercise that can be repeated ad infinitum.
This puts ministers and Whitehall mandarins in the indomitable position of never having to be accountable for the NPfIT, whether or not the ruling party changes.
In the private sector, IT programmes and projects usually have dates by which a board will judge the success or otherwise of a programme. The Prudential, for example, cancelled its “Unite” IT programme when deadlines started to be pushed back. Its directors wrote that the “extended timescales for project completion no longer support our business plans and sales targets”.
There is no such impediment for the NPfIT, no point at which extended timescales render the business plans uneconomic. So for NHS trust boards that are waiting for national systems, and for MPs and taxpayers who want to know if the programme will prove to be value for money the answer is: you’ll have to wait and see, for the NPfIT has “no single national start or completion date for the programme as a whole, or for its individual systems and services”.