NHS faces planning blight fear after £250m project cancelled

The cancellation of a £250m electronic patient records project in the Birmingham area has prompted renewed fears of a blight on...

The cancellation of a £250m electronic patient records project in the Birmingham area has prompted renewed fears of a blight on IT developments across the health service.

NHS IT users, suppliers and industry watchers are warning that there could be a two-year hiatus in the roll-out of new IT projects while the Department of Health thrashes out details of its £2.3bn National Programme for IT.

The Birmingham and Black Country Strategic Health Authority launched the Blackberd Project last October to provide an EPR system for 12 NHS trusts.

Suppliers involved in the project say funding has now been pulled because it was not clear if Blackberd would have a future under the new programme of NHS IT chief Richard Granger.

A representative of one of the seven companies chosen to provide core systems told Computer Weekly, “We have received formal notification explaining that the project has stopped because of funding issues. It will not be the last project to be cancelled or stalled."

Granger, speaking at last month's Healthcare Computing conference insisted that there was no planning blight in the NHS, but Murray Bywater, managing director of Silicon Bridge Research, said there was a gap between intention and reality.

"NHS managers are asking themselves two questions. First, with lots of money coming in for IT, why should I spend my own now? Second, What happens if I pick the wrong solution?"

With the aggressive noises coming out of the Granger team local NHS leaders are asking themselves, "are we at risk of becoming pariahs for picking the wrong solution," added Bywater.

Grant Kelly, chairman of the British Medical Association's IT Committee, was concerned about the impact of cancelling projects such as Blackberd. "One damaging thing about stopping projects like this is that the people that have worked on them don't feel motivated to work on similar schemes for the next few years.

"If the lessons have not been learnt then that will be a lot of money wasted," he added.

Several suppliers involved in the Blackberd project told Computer Weekly the lessons would be incorporated into the new national programme.

That is the hope of Richard Slough, project manager of a proposed electronic patient record system across five Leeds primary care trusts that went out to tender this week. He said Blackberd was "was doing a lot of good work and in many ways was the forerunner of what is to come nationally".

He said the invitation to tender had been issued despite concerns about future funding. "We’re very much aware of the national situation and it changes rapidly,” said Slough. “I know that, locally, procurements have been put on hold till the national situation is more clear.”

A spokesperson for the DoH said, "The National Programme for IT will provide access to national funding, without which Blackberd would not have been feasible."

"The National Programme for IT will almost certainly deliver in a similar timeframe to the one originally envisaged by the Blackberd project. Much of the good work that was done on Blackberd has been included in the specifications for the National Programme for IT," he added.

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