Importance of magazine 'Oscar'

The decision of judges at the Periodical Publishers Association to choose Computer Weekly for its coveted Campaign of the Year...

The decision of judges at the Periodical Publishers Association to choose Computer Weekly for its coveted Campaign of the Year award is a victory for independently-minded journalism.

In its citation, the judges said Computer Weekly had sought to put the brakes on a project that many in the IT industry perceive as out of control - the £2.3bn national programme for IT in the NHS.

Computer Weekly and the vast majority of IT staff in the health service have long supported the idea of accurate and comprehensive electronic patient records being available to front-line medical staff when they need them. Too many paper-based records go missing, putting patients at risk.

But the prime minister, ministers, and officials at the Department of Health, in trying to ensure that records are always available, have dreamed up a mammoth, all-embracing IT programme that appears to be driven as much by political aggrandisement as helping patients. Of course the NHS needs to be modernised, but it should not be against the background of ministers who want, before the next general election, to make a series of important announcements about the national programme.

When billions of pounds are being spent, there is no such thing as being overly cautious. There are concerns that good project management and transparency are being put to one side in the haste to use IT as the means of turning the NHS, a disparate collection of autonomous enterprises, into one cohesive organisation.

Computer Weekly has been an outlet for the views of both the programme's evangelists and the realists and pragmatists: those who have seen too many IT disasters, too much waste.

There has been opposition to our independent stance. Officials at the Department of Health have defamed us on a government website. Some of those running the programme have become so evangelical that they have tried to block their ears to criticism.

Because of this, Computer Weekly was for months the only forum for criticism and concern about the national programme. We are proud of the award, but sad that the excessive secrecy of the Department of Health, which we have sought to counter, contributed so strongly to our winning it.

We will continue the campaign for all ideas about the programme to be aired, and hope that the appointment of Aidan Halligan as its senior responsible owner will end the unnecessary secrecy. But if the national programme is depicted as a success only through the suppression of dissent, we will remain, as ever, a strong, independent voice.

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