Ministers withhold draft report on NHS IT scheme

Ministers are sitting on a draft annual statement to parliament on the costs and benefits so far of the £12.7bn...

Ministers are sitting on a draft annual statement to parliament on the costs and benefits so far of the £12.7bn programme to modernise NHS IT.

Computer Weekly has learned that the Annual Benefits Statement for the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) was in draft form in November 2008. It has never been published.

Now NHS Connecting for Health, a group within the Department of Health, says the annual benefits statement will be published, in a different format, in 2010 - which may be after the 2010 general election.

If published now, the statement could renew the political debate over whether the NPfIT is poor value for money and should be scrapped.

It may show that about £3.5bn had been spent on the programme by the end of March 2008 but with a questionable benefit for NHS patients.

Even so, the withholding of the report is likely to disappoint NHS trusts in England most of which have contributed facts and figures to the Department of Health on their participation in the programme.

Trusts had been required to state the costs of their legacy systems, the costs associated with the storage of medical records, the percentage of medical records with a valid NHS number, the percentage of care plans completed, the percentage of appointments where the outcomes were recorded, a percentage of patients who were given a copy of their care plan, and percentage of discharge follow-ups which were recorded within a specified period.

Whitehall officials knew of the draft report last year

Top executives at the Department of Health were aware of the existence of the draft Annual Benefits Statement last year. They include the NPfIT overall senior responsible owner David Nicholson, who is also chief executive of the NHS.

The draft benefits statement was the Department of Health's response to a recommendation of parliament's Public Accounts Committee that officials should publish an annual report on costs and benefits of the NPfIT.

Department of Health comment

A spokesman at the Department of Health claimed the department had made it clear to the Public Accounts Committee earlier this year that, as it was improving data collection, the Annual Benefits Statement would not be published until 2010.

In fact the department had said nothing to the Public Accounts Committee about postponing publication of second annual benefits statement.

The department told the committee that the department "will consider the recommendation to publish an annual report of progress against the timetables and revised forecasts. This may, from 2009-2010, take the form of a single document combining the Annual Report and the Annual Benefits Statement".

Officials have withheld reports before

In 2006, the Department of Health postponed publication of a second Ipsos Mori survey of NHS staff and managers on the NPfIT, many of whom criticised aspects of the programme. The survey's results were not shown to researchers from the National Audit Office who were finalising their report on the NPfIT.

NPfIT spending £1.5bn less than expected - IT Projects blog

Read more on IT risk management