Your Shout! Is £91m a fair price for NHS e-mail?

We've had an inbox full of your comments following Simon Moores' recent Thought for the day column on an e-mail system for the...

We've had an inbox full of your comments following Simon Moores' recent Thought for the day column on an e-mail system for the NHS, being supplied by EDS, costing £91m.

Moores felt the proposed system sounded suspiciously like the free Instant Messenger service offered by Microsoft - apart from the fact that it would cost a lot more. Surely, he argued, the NHS could purchase a commercial system for far less than it was planning to pay EDS.

Jonathan Rees agreed. "This would appear to be another case of prestige overruling common sense. £91m of taxpayers' money is to be frittered away unnecessarily again - aren't these people accountable to anyone? The likelihood is the project will come in vastly over budget and late, if at all. It also makes me wonder if there is any project management or cost/benefit analysis that takes place in any government department - any realistic examination of the alternative should have ruled out this course of action straight away.

It would be far better to spend the money on things that would really improve the NHS Phil Roberts said. "The money would be better spent on patients. Many hospital PC users already have e-mail in place on their systems, handled by their in-house servers. The proposed e-mail system would be simple and inexpensive to implement if the NHS rationalised the IT infrastructure and ensured these servers could communicate with each other. Each hospital's own in-house IT departments would then implement the infrastructure. It would only require a team of IT professionals to oversee the project.

The wider issue, as far as Steve Barrett is concerned, is that the public sector should be made far more accountable. "I am disgusted at the amount of money so-called NHS Managers waste on IT projects which often seem bound to fail before they even start. This is taxpayers' money being thrown away. I have worked in IT for over 20 years and now work as a freelance consultant for a variety of SMEs - the key to successful projects is scoping well, keeping them simple and breaking projects down into manageable phases. I do not think many people in the public sector have any concept of private sector ethos - they live in a world of their own. As you rightly point out there is some very good software out there already; I am constantly being surprised by the good quality of some of the freeware available. Come on let's make a real stink about this one.

Many of you voiced similar concerns. Darius Collins summed up the general consensus in his response: "If a simple e-mail and messaging system is all that the contract covers then £91 million is clearly a massive overpricing of the project. However, surely this also covers support, servicing, and other such services. Nevertheless, a considerable amount of money would be saved if the NHS asked EDS to install a commercial off-the-shelf product as well as providing the support services already agreed, rather than writing a bespoke messaging system. Perhaps the tendering for these products should be more in the public domain so that feedback on possible solutions is gained from industry experts prior to deciding on a vendor.

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