When will the government learn the the NHS's ills won't be cured by huge doses of money? What's really needed is a remedy for inefficiency, says Simon Moores.
An e-government monitor report has announced, “The National Programme for NHS IT (NPfIT) is re-tendering for a national e-mail and directory service for 1.2 million staff after deciding to terminate a £91m contract with EDS last month."
In a tender notice issued on 3 April, the Department of Health said the existing service was to be withdrawn, with a new service provider being sought "urgently" to provide continuity. The tender's estimated value is between £50m to £90m which, when compared with the contract for the existing service, awarded to EDS by the NHS Information Authority in October 2002, would indicate scope for significant saving in cost.
Reading this, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. You may remember from Computer Weekly that I’ve written about this fiasco once before. I wondered how on earth government could justify spending £91m on a directory services and e-mail project, when I happen to know from one source involved with the project that an original NHS internal estimate costed the project at no more than £10m.
You may also remember that at the time government officials and EDS claimed they were aware of widespread cynicism about large IT projects, but insisted that the concerns are unjustified. EDS strategy director David Fisher claimed that EDS had an "unrivalled record of success in government" and added that £91m deal, over 10 years, was cheap for what was being provided.
Even the Office of the e-Envoy agonised over the cost at the time. I also recall a conversation with one of its directors, where we both agreed that £91m was an insane price with little visible justification, and yet government appeared hell bent on throwing money at the project with the same partner that had managed to drop the ball on two other flagship projects, the Child Support Agency and the Inland Revenue.
At least government has now accepted there is room for savings, but you have to ask how much time and taxpayers' money has already been wasted by this unholy urge to throw funds at the health service.
I don’t know the answer but the BBC wants to know, and last week they called and asked for contacts and resources that might shed a little more light on the question.
Despairing of the problems in NHS IT, one Computer Weekly reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote to me in private:
“I got out of the Department of Health after 13 years, 10 of which were spent supporting NHS IT. I tried to inject some common sense into the changes I saw and feedback why things didn't work and what lessons should be learned. But when you see the same mistakes being made time after time, it gets very dispiriting. All of which indicates to me that the NHS cannot be run to the four to five-year timescale dictated by the political agenda.
"The most telling comment is that many believe that the system introduced by the Conservatives may have been better."
Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of
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