Tsar must deliver joined-up IT for health service

Health Service IT managers have welcomed Richard Granger's appointment as NHS IT tsar - a job which has been described as the IT...

Health Service IT managers have welcomed Richard Granger's appointment as NHS IT tsar - a job which has been described as the IT challenge of the decade.

The 37-year-old Deloitte Consulting executive will take up the post of director-general of NHS IT in late September, when he will begin the challenging job of implementing the service's long-awaited IT overhaul. His salary will be £250,000 a year.

With more than a million employees and comprising hundreds of different trusts, the NHS is one of the largest and most complex organisations in the world.

The profile of IT within the NHS was raised dramatically in this year's budget which outlined £1bn of extra funding for NHS IT.

Murray Bywater, managing director of IT healthcare specialist Silicon Bridge Research, believes Granger's experience on inter-agency projects indicates the Government's priorities for NHS IT.

"The fact that Granger has had a lot of experience working on joined-up-government projects gives a pointer to some of the issues that the Government sees as important for the health service and this particular role.

"Getting different health service organisations to communicate is key for the NHS," he added. But Bywater warned that Granger faces a tough challenge meeting the service's long-term targets.

An IT manager in a Midlands NHS trust said, "This is a good thing. IT is key to modernising the health service - anybody who can raise the profile of IT to a national level has got to be good for the health service and, ultimately, the patient."

Granger, who is the lead client service partner for the Government at Deloitte Consulting, has extensive experience of public sector IT projects, including the London congestion charging scheme.

The Government, however, has a poor record on meeting NHS IT targets. In 1998 it promised to connect all computerised GP surgeries to the NHS Network by 2000 - a deadline that was later abandoned.

Guest editor's comment
At last the NHS has jumped in with both feet by appointing Richard Granger as director-general of IT. It remains to be seen whether they can pay anyone enough money to take up this tremendous challenge and see it through to the end. More importantly will there be enough money available in the IT pot to streamline and upgrade the myriad systems currently lurking in the bowels of our beloved health service? Granger will face steep political and bureaucratic hurdles, not to mention the IT ones. Will eventual success be founded on experience, radical ideas, good project management or pure tenacity and determination? One thing is for sure, success will cost money and take time. Challenge of the decade or poisoned chalice? Time will tell. I wish him luck!

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