£2.3bn at risk if staff reject new IT

Ministers and the Department of Health are risking much of the £2.3bn NHS IT investment by underestimating the need to win user...

Ministers and the Department of Health are risking much of the £2.3bn NHS IT investment by underestimating the need to win user support for the programme, according to clinicians, health service IT professionals and politicians.

The problem was highlighted by Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Matthew Taylor earlier this month, when he asked the government what it was doing to monitor clinicians' satisfaction and use of new NHS IT systems.

Health minister John Hutton said, in reply to Taylor's question, "Clinician satisfaction and use of specific implementations of new NHS IT systems is a matter for local management and the relevant suppliers."

Taylor has accused the minister of complacency. "There is a real danger of hundreds of millions of pounds being wasted if doctors and nurses do not find new NHS technology easy and useful," he said. "Decisions taken without full buy-in from the users and local managers are likely to lead to systems that offer bad value for money and hinder NHS modernisation."

Narasimha-Moorthy Shastry of the United Bristol Healthcare NHS Trust, a world-renowned expert in telemedicine and medical imaging, backed Taylor's view and accused ministers and civil servants of passing the buck.

"When it suits the Department of Health it says local service initiatives are important. When it suits them otherwise they emphasise national projects. They confuse the local guys so much that things grind to a halt," he said.

The Department of Health has embarked on initiatives to improve user buy-in, including the creation of a 100-strong group of clinicians to review developments with the Integrated Care Records Service project.

However, research by Medix UK, commissioned earlier this year by Computer Weekly, found that only 7% of more than 1,000 doctors and consultants questioned said they had adequate information about the NHS IT modernisation plans, and 32% had not even heard about it before taking part in the study.

Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS managers, said, "The national programme will require buy-in from NHS management and clinicians at every level. However, it is still not always seen as part of business functionality or related to patient care."

Morgan said the confederation was working closely with the Department of Health to ensure the national programme delivers improved patient care. "Securing buy-in of clinicians and local NHS management is an important task that requires commitment and support from all levels of healthcare leaders," she said.

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